Saying yes to Jeremy – part 2

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

Saying Yes to Jeremy?

So, as far as Jeremy Corbyn is concerned, when it comes to Brexit – ‘look, this debate is now over. We’ve done it, the party has now made its decision, and that’s it; and that’s what we’re going to campaign on.”  (As quoted in The Guardian) As for his decision to support a general election in the shadow cabinet meeting – “it was my decision. On my own. I made that decision. And they gulped, and said, Yes Jeremy.”

So how do we as socialists reconcile the Labour Party’s support for Brexit, which is reactionary, and its radical social democratic programme?

Firstly by recognising that they cannot be reconciled, that ‘friendly relations’ – employing one dictionary definition – cannot be established between the two projects: they are incompatible and one will have to give.  They are inconsistent and the contradictions between them will lead to one, or perhaps both, being ditched.  Anyone believing that a Labour Brexit is part and parcel of a radical social democratic programme is therefore mistaken.

Brexit will disrupt the insertion of the British economy into its biggest trading partner, which is its main market and theatre of operation; main supplier of additional skilled and unskilled labour power; intermediate goods that enable production to be sited in Britain; and the main route through which it inserts itself into the economies of the rest of the world – through agreements and deals which it has, as part of the EU, negotiated with the United States, Japan, South America etc. etc.

Disruption 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.  The loss of these markets means that the reduction of existing and potential production will also reduce incomes and employment and the capacity of the state to syphon off revenues to finance its services.  It will reduce its capacity to provide welfare payments and to redistribute incomes, which are sold as central to Labour’s declared project of reducing inequality, insecurity and poverty.

The idea that a transformation of ownership of utilities and other companies from private capital to state ownership will compensate for these effects ignores the reality that state production will be affected just as much by the loss of skilled and unskilled labour, loss of markets and economies of scale etc. as private capital.  State ownership does not by itself create new markets that have just been shut off or reduced, or provide the labour power that is necessary for the current British economy to operate efficiently and grow.

This is all obvious from even cursory examination of media coverage of Brexit’s effects, today reporting potential damage to the tourist industry, but previously in relation to international research and university teaching, to EU staff in the NHS, the whole car industry, aircraft production, financial services and seasonal workers in agriculture, and many others. When asked this morning on Radio 4 whether any sort of Brexit could be better for the NHS, the Labour spokesman evaded the question – ‘the people had voted for it so they were going to be given the opportunity to get it’, was the gist of his reply.  As if it was not obvious what the honest answer had to be.

So, left supporters of Brexit treat it as a separate issue from every other, all of which can be made amenable to the actions of the British State.  The entirely un-socialist view, that the state should and could have such power to banish all the problems created, could only come from one that believes –

1, capitalist state ownership is somehow socialist;

2, the state can suspend or abolish capitalism through its ownership, and do so  in a relatively small country within a much larger and more powerful capitalist world;

3, the division of workers by nationalism and racism can be ended by providing answers that include shutting out foreign workers as if they were part of the problem, rather than their existence in Britain seen as an opportunity for unity that can banish nationalism and xenophobia, and

4, it is possible to ignore the failure of such experiments across the world that have distorted and tarnished the understanding and reputation of socialism.

On top of all this, it describes the socialist alternative – based on an international approach to workers solving their problems – as a question of ‘culture wars.’

Whenever Costas Lapavitsas, a left supporter of Brexit, spoke at a meeting in Belfast I told him that he had come to the wrong country if he wanted to parade the British State as the answer; and I cited internment, Bloody Sunday, murder and torture as all products of the state that we are required to believe can alone deliver progress.   Brexit threatens to further divide workers in Ireland with a harder border while its left supporters complain that the EU is responsible.

Meanwhile it threatens to divide in Britain as Britain has divided Ireland.  We can see this in many ways and not just in speculation that Scottish nationalism will be strengthened.  We see it from the speeches of Brexit supporters claiming that the only way to prevent violence is to support Brexit; that the only way to respect the memory of an MP murdered by a nationalist fanatic is to carry through the policy he killed her for; to describing opposition to the nationalist and reactionary policy of Brexit as a question of ‘culture’, just as in Ireland opposition to sectarianism is declared to be opposition to Protestant ‘culture’.  A culture composed of sectarian demonstrations and burning bonfires upon which Catholic, foreign, gay and any vaguely progressive flag or symbol is burned.

Perhaps it could be claimed that Corbyn’s Labour Party might reconcile its social democratic agenda with Brexit because it doesn’t actually support it?  Except no one believes this, and not just because of Corbyn’s own presumed Brexit views.  No one, that is, except the most ardent Brexit supporters of both right and left for whom the dangers and damage of Brexit are actually its attraction – the separation and isolation, the attempt to turn the clock back, and the illusions in the special role and place of Britain in the world.

From ‘respecting the referendum result’, to seeking how it might support a Theresa May deal, to seeking to negotiate its own deal, to refusing to accept the view of the majority of its own members, everything the Corbyn leadership has done has facilitated a policy of letting Brexit happen. All on the spurious grounds that it can be dispensed with as an issue, Labour can ‘bring people together’ around its agenda and continue with the lie that Brexit is not a part of it.

A second defence is that Labour’s Brexit is not a Tory Brexit, but one that protects jobs and living standards through a customs union and adherence to workers and environmental standards, while striking one’s own trade deals and having a say in future EU deals.  In other words, a deal that shares the illusions of the Tories, before they actually had to negotiate the first step of withdrawal.

It should not need to be said – the EU will not allow Britain the benefits of membership without being a member and paying for it as every other member of the EU does.  So yes, new customs arrangements can be agreed, as can regulatory alignment, and even alignment with future regulation; but you will have to pay for these arrangements and you will have no say in them or any other deal that the EU negotiates with other countries that you will have to accept.  If the EU is so irrevocably rotten why do you want to leave if you will have to pay for accepting its rules without having any say in their formation?

Perhaps you think you can strike your own deals and improve your own protections of workers’ rights?  But you can improve workers’ rights now, if you want.  If this creates a threat that British companies will leave to avoid these new regulations, why don’t you stay in the EU and fight for them to be adopted across the continent?  Would this not give you a strategy to unite workers across Europe and challenge the EU as it currently functions, as opposed to kidding yourself you can just walk away from it?  Perhaps you think you cannot succeed in this, because changes require unanimity within the EU?  But this means your single voice at the very least is an obstacle to a race to the bottom – Brexit on the other hand threatens an unrestricted, Trump-led sprint downwards to the bottom of the barrel.

Perhaps Labour thinks its own deals with other countries will be better.  But what sort of level of workers’ and environmental regulation does it think much bigger countries and trading blocs, such as the US, China and India, will demand for any deals?  Will the EU accept unrestricted trade with a Britain that has agreed that goods can enter Britain from these countries that do not conform with the trade deals that the EU itself has agreed with them?  A relatively small country like Britain may be forced to accept the EU’s regulations or everyone else’s.  What it won’t be able to do is enforce any of its own standards, especially if they were to be higher.

What you have left is a dystopian vision of an isolated and backward Britain dominated by the state that will be declared a socialist paradise by the enemies of socialism and by the defenders of its Stalinist inspiration so discredited in the last century.

Forward to part 2

From civil rights to ‘the Troubles’ part 8 – provocative civil rights

The December 1968 speech by Terence O’Neill was a landmark in unfolding events, but unfortunately there were many such landmarks.  Many critics of the militancy of some in the civil rights movement have since been too keen to blame the subsequent descent into the Troubles on their refusal to trust the bona fides of the Unionist regime, but without detaining themselves long to examine the paucity of the reforms on offer.

At the time the speech had a powerful impact on public opinion, and many were impressed at his sacking of the hard-line Minister of Home Affairs, Bill Craig.  The leadership of NICRA and the ‘moderate’ leaders of the Citizens’ Action Committee in Derry all accepted the request to call off their demonstrations and suspend their protests.

Peoples Democracy decided that the promises of the Unionist Government would be tested.  The speech by O’Neill had solved nothing and even the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson noted that universal franchise – ‘one man, one vote’ – had not been granted.  A march starting on 1 January 1969 from Belfast to Derry modelled on the Selma-Montgomery march in Alabama three years before, which exposed racist violence and forced reform, would test the Unionist Government’s intentions.

The intentions of unionist hard-liners became apparent very quickly.  The march was subject to repeated harassment and struggled to take its intended course with repeated blockages and police diversions that seemed intended to facilitate loyalist attacks.  On the fourth day the RUC led the demonstration into an ambush at Burntollet in which hundreds of loyalists throwing stones and bottles attacked with clubs and iron bars.  Some RUC men joined in the attack while dozens of the attackers were later exposed as off-duty members of the B Special constabulary, especially notorious for its bigotry.  No attempt was made to arrest the attackers and later both police and assailants were to be found socialising together. The march regrouped and faced further attack but eventually made its way into Derry. City

PD had organised the march to test the Unionist Government and its State but did not anticipate the level of violent reaction it suffered; encapsulating one great problem for the whole civil rights struggle.  In the words of PD leader Michael Farrell, “either the government would face up to the extreme right . . . and protect the march . . . or it would be exposed as impotent in the face of sectarian thuggery, and Westminster would be forced to intervene.”

The problem with this was that the Unionist Government was not concerned with sectarian thuggery in itself but only with its possible consequences, especially intervention by Westminster, although Westminster did not want to intervene.  The result was that sectarian thuggery took on, and had to take on, massive proportions before Westminster did eventually intervene, and then not primarily to stop the sectarian thugs.

Because this was not understood more appropriate preparations to defend against sectarian attacks were not taken and nor was the character of the later Westminster intervention understood, or the much greater level of violence it eventually entailed.

The idea of ‘provocation’ was not only the accusation of unionism but was also part of the calculation of some radical civil rights leaders. One marcher stated that “Our function in marching . . . was to break the truce, to relaunch the civil rights movement as a mass movement, and to show the people that O’Neill was, in fact, offering them nothing. We knew that we wouldn’t finish the march without getting molested, and we were accused of looking for trouble. What we really wanted to do was pull the carpet off the floor to show the dirt that was under it.”

The PD march had been opposed by the leadership of NICRA and the Derry Citizens Action Committee, while the most prominent organiser, Michael Farrell, said he knew what he was doing – “a lot of the route was through my home area of South Derry so I knew . . . the likely reaction.”

One author of the history of the civil rights movement was not so sure:

“Farrell had not, however, anticipated the full extent of the violence. He had thought that the march would force the Government either to confront the loyalists or to drop its pretensions about reform, but he had not been clear about the further consequences of forcing the Government to resist sections of its own supporters. The loyalists might back down, or the Government might fall, forcing the British government to intervene. The purpose of the march was to upset the status quo.” (Bob Purdie, ‘Politics in the Streets’)

When the Nationalist Party had tried to march in Derry city centre in 1952, for example, the march had been banned and then broken up violently by an RUC baton charge. One consequence was a great reluctance to defy these bans and the next to do so in Derry was the civil rights march in October 1968.

As Eamonn McCann said, “the strategy was to provoke the police into overreaction”, and as he also put it, “one certain way to ensure a head-on clash with the authorities was to organise a non-Unionist march through the city centre.”  “Our conscious, if unspoken, strategy was to provoke the police into over-reaction and thus spark off mass reaction against the authorities.” (War and an Irish Town p 62.)  Of October 1968 he said – “we had set out to make the police over-react.  But we hadn’t expected the animal brutality of the RUC.”

But if opponents of this approach have accused these radicals of provocation, they have been less keen to interrogate just exactly what justification had those who were provoked?

Given the moderation of the demands there is scant excuse for a violent reaction and the assumption of a strategy determinedly ‘non-provocative’ would appear to be that if you did next to nothing, next to nothing would be done to you.  But O’Neill’s promised reforms made it clear that the Unionist Government had no intention of granting equal citizenship rights to the Catholic minority without the strongest of pressure.  If only because pressure was being applied by hard-line loyalists on the other side, whose violence is so part of their nature that it is taken for granted by critics of the civil rights movement.  The imperative to non-provocation for these liberals thus always lies with the disadvantaged.

This does not imply that the moral righteousness of the oppressed means that no consideration need be given to the legitimacy or efficacy of methods of struggle employed.  It means that much more consideration needs to be given when you are in a position of weakness and you cannot simply declare a right to fight back by any means without accounting for its effects and its consequences.  There is no ‘right’ for Marxists to glorious or inglorious failure with its consequent casualties.

So, to demand civil rights meant challenging the sectarian parameters of society, which necessarily meant that the sectarian forces which defended these parameters were then ‘provoked’ into repressing demands for equality.  This, for example included demonstrating outside what was considered ‘your area’, which was then taken by the state as valid reason to enforce its sectarian rules by force.

For the defenders of sectarian supremacy any challenge to their sectarian rights was by its nature sectarian itself, simply by virtue of challenging the particular sectarian privileges of some Protestants.  In this view there was no such thing as non-sectarianism or anti-sectarianism because all attempts to redress the imbalance of rights necessarily impacted unequally on Protestants. In this view the inequality that existed was either denied or justified.  No claims to equality had any purchase on those with these views.  The alternative was to take a neutral view between these for and those opposed to sectarian practices, on the usually unspoken grounds that the latter were too powerful and capable, of violence.

The state defended itself not so much by arguing against the civil rights demands themselves as against those who were raising them, by arguing that the civil rights campaign involved republicans and was a republican front; in effect stating that even mild demands for change were subversive.

We have seen that no one outside of the Catholic population itself was able to build any substantial opposition to the State’s sectarian practices, so it had to come from within that population, not just logically but inevitably.  When the demands were raised by ‘moderate’ middle class figures they were ignored.  When they were raised by trade unions and the Northern Ireland Labour Party they were ignored.  When they were raised on the streets it was inevitable that leftists and republicans would be involved, at which point they were no longer ignored but attacked.

The involvement of the Communist Party in NICRA meant unionism also associated it and civil rights with Communism, which had a particular connotation at this time because 1968 was also the year the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia.  The development of NICRA however showed that neither the Communist Party nor republicans had control of the movement.

NICRA had rejected the charge that the 5 October march in Derry was provocative and it was pointed out later that there were no clashes between demonstrators and Protestant residents but only between demonstrators and the police.  As a defence however this could not be sustained when loyalists increasingly confronted civil rights demonstrations, as they had done from the first civil rights march from Coalisland to Dungannon. This was also a consideration for those opposed to the PD march but no one in the civil rights movement could afford to allow counter-demonstrations by the most bigoted Paisley supporters or attacks by off-duty police and Special Constabulary to veto their right to protest and demand for civil rights.

Either these attacks would lead to passivity and reliance on the good grace of the Unionist Government to introduce reforms, or the campaign would continue until they had been implemented, or not.

This at least seemed the logical choice, but as has been said before in this blog, political struggle is not a question of logic.  Political struggle gives rise to (or arises from) an opposition and this changes the choices that can be made.

It is clear that the civil rights movement did not foresee the vicious loyalist reaction that dragged the opposition to the sectarianism of the state into the Troubles, but they are not to be ‘blamed’ for the Troubles on that account.  Rather, if blame is to be apportioned, it is to those who violently opposed civil rights and who escalated their violent opposition as they saw the sectarian rights they were defending threatened.

Back to part 7

From civil rights to ‘the Troubles’ 7 – civil rights takes centre stage

Image result for derry civil rights movement 1968

Television pictures of the civil rights demonstration in Derry on 5 October 1968 being attacked by police sparked anger across the North and South of Ireland and shock in Britain and further afield.  In Belfast Queens University students marched from the University into the city centre and set up a new organisation – Peoples Democracy (PD) – when they returned.

On the right of the spectrum, the Nationalist Party withdrew from its position as official opposition at Stormont and endorsed a policy of ‘non-violent civil disobedience’ and the civil rights agenda.   This did nothing to change the leadership of the civil rights movement while the running was made elsewhere as the next day PD held another demonstration to the City Hall in Belfast.  On 21 October the British Prime Minister Harold Wilson declared that there must be reforms while the Taoiseach Jack Lynch visited London and protested against the events in Derry.  Just over a week later Wilson met the leadership of the Unionist Government and demanded the introduction of reforms.

In Derry the movement that had played such a big role in precipitating the crisis was rather easily taken out of the control of left radicals by the local Catholic middle class, intent on instilling its discipline.  Thus was created the Derry Citizens’ Action Committee (DCAC) which most radicals joined, afraid of marginalisation if they didn’t, except for Eamonn McCann who walked out of the launch meeting in protest.  The presence of the majority of radicals however made no appreciable difference to the course of action taken by the DCAC.  The weakness and lack of perspectives that had been discussed by these radicals when they existed in separate loose organisation and alliance was made abundantly clear inside the Citizens Action Committee.

The DCAC brought more planning and organisation to protests, which they began organising, such as the mass sit-down in Guildhall Square later in October.  It was bigger than the 5 October demonstration, with between four and five thousand taking part, demanding a crash housing programme and points system for housing allocation. So, while denying it had any political purpose, even the new middle class leaders felt the need to extend the demands of the movement and continue its activity on the streets.

On the other hand the DCAC, run by local businessmen, did not mark itself out as centrally concerned with civil rights and hardly had much to do with NICRA at all, which in itself is symptomatic of both the limited nature of NICRA and the localised and confined perspective of leading figures in the Catholic middle class. There appeared to be no movement to compel the creation of a united and democratic civil rights campaign across the North or, on the other hand, a united left component of it, composed of the Derry radicals, PD in Belfast and others.  Instead, histories of the period note that the civil rights association and the wider civil rights movement were separate.  As so often, especially on the left, the need to prioritise activity in order to take advantage of a particular conjuncture of circumstances affected everyone concerned.

Another demonstration, defying a Government ban that the RUC could not enforce, was held on 16 November and was much larger that the October demonstration, with at least 15,000 taking part.  Two days later 400 dockworkers left work and marched and 1,000 shirt factory women also left work to demonstrate in the city centre as court proceedings arising from the first march started.  Later that night Protestant youths attacked the women as the evening shift left the factory, with clashes continuing the following day.

Two days later disagreement developed over a proposed demonstration on unemployment, which the DCAC leadership argued successfully against.  As Eamonn McCann later acknowledged, this approach “perfectly matched the mood of the Catholic masses” – “reasonable, respectable, righteous, solid, non-violent and determined.  The DCAC “did not challenge the consciousness of the Catholic masses.  It updated the expression of it, injected new life into it and made it relevant to a changed situation.”  As MCann also observed, it contrived to contain within itself those who wanted to destroy this consciousness.

Nevertheless, the repercussions of the Derry demonstration and the publicity it generated were carried forward – by the actions of the DCAC in leading street action and by the spontaneous demonstrations of workers. Coupled with the defection of the Nationalist Party and the radicalisation elsewhere, including demonstrations in Belfast, it contributed to growing pressure on the Unionist regime to make some concessions. On 22 November the Unionist Prime Minister Terence O’Neill announced a package of reforms.

They included a review of local government that would deal with ‘one man one vote’ in two years’ time, the abolition of the Special Powers Act as soon as practically possible, encouragement to local authorities to use a merit-based points system for allocating public housing (that they could make up themselves), an ombudsman to deal with complaints and a development commission to replace Londonderry Corporation.

One obvious problem with the reforms was that the Unionist Party leadership remained in control of the government with the only significant threat to its parliamentary majority being the threat from hard-right unionists. This dynamic ensured that the reforms were minimised for fear of losing this right-wing support and would continue got come under pressure. For example, the points system for allocating public housing was left for the local authorities to devise themselves.  The abolition of the Special Powers Act was to be as soon ‘as practically possible’, while the then Minister of Home Affairs suggested that this might not be for some time.

Most importantly, the package did not end the restricted franchise in local government and included no measures that would actually guarantee the end of unionist control of districts where nationalists were in a majority, except for Derry where a development commission was to take charge. All of the important levers of power remained in the hands of the Unionist Party. ‘One man, one vote’, which had come to crystallise the civil rights movement’s concerns had not been conceded, demonstrating that the Unionist Party couldn’t concede it because to do so threatened a split.

Unionist backbenchers were opposed to the reforms, while the cabinet had carried out analysis that showed that without the property franchise Catholics would make up a majority of the electorate in Fermanagh and Tyrone whilst threatening the Unionist Party position elsewhere.

The rioting that had followed the Derry October demonstration had given rise to concerns about future possible sectarian clashes, although it had been pointed out by ciivil rights protestors that it was the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) that had attacked the demonstrators and not local Protestants. Nevertheless, a small civil rights march in November from Strabane to Derry had been attacked by loyalists, and at the end of the month supporters of Ian Paisley occupied the location of a civil rights march in Armagh town centre, armed with cudgels and sticks, preventing the legal civil rights march from taking its intended route.  The denial on full civil rights so evident in the limited concessions offered in O’Neill’s reform package was matched on the streets by the RUC, which stood by while loyalists prevented a legal civil rights demonstration.

It was clear rather rapidly that the reforms proposed were not enough, although they still led to a clash inside the Unionist Government, with the hard-line Home Secretary Bill Craig sacked after his criticism of a televised speech by O’Neill.   This had been designed to show the Unionist Government’s commitment to reform – “your voice has been heard and clearly heard .  Your duty now is to play your part in taking the heat out of the situation.”

The message was that the Unionist Government had played its part and now the civil rights movement was to play its – by calling an end to the demonstrations that caused so much violence and division.    Many Catholics were impressed that the previously aloof Unionist Prime Minister spoke directly to them, even if he spoke on behalf of the Protestant middle class that feared looming violence.  The unionist ‘Belfast Telegraph’ newspaper ran a campaign in support of O’Neil with tens of thousands of its coupons backing himl being returned by its readers.

His ‘Cross roads’ speech in December 1968 warned of the situation being on “the brink of chaos”, while he appealed for the civil rights movement to call off its demonstrations, pledging that there would be no watering down of the promised changes.  NICRA and the DCAC acquiesced and called a truce on marches while nationalist newspapers welcomed the defeat of unionist hardliners and the reforms that were on their way, hoping that this promised steady progress in the future.

O’Neill had certainly changed the style and rhetoric of Unionist rule somewhat and was, as one author put it, “strong on gestures and bold statements”,  but there were very restricted limits to any reforming intentions and those that existed should be seen as part of attempts to modernise and rejuvenate industry and the economy more generally.  Unionist reformism, such as it was, assumed that the benefits of British welfarism and economic progress, plus funding for Catholic Church institutions, would nullify any demand for equality.  For O’Neill, the ‘Scotch-Irish’ Protestants of the North of Ireland were as different from the rest of the Irish people as ‘chalk from cheese’.

His premiership demonstrated no evidence that the anti-Catholic character of the Unionist Party was changing or that the Orange Order was not still an important part of it.  He wanted North-South relations to improve but there were no measures to prevent or combat discrimination in Northern Ireland.  He condemned the October civil rights march in Derry as ‘an act of pure provocation’ and supported the police despite its violent attack on it.

Undoubtedly he was limited in what he could do by the right wing of his party, which was rather rapidly and easily to become predominant, but he thought civil rights was only of interest to a minority of Catholics who he believed were more interested in houses, jobs and public services plus funding for their own sectarian institutions.

O’Neill did not so much advance a non-sectarian agenda, and pave the way for measures to reduce sectarianism, as undercut the growing but fragile movements that did and which threatened Unionist hegemony and that might have heralded a real, even if limited, advance on civil rights – the NILP in particular.  His liberal image had also made it easier to resist pressure from Westminster for some reform by the Unionist regime, which would have been harder to justify by other hard-line unionist leaders.  In this regard however, even the threats from the British Government to start interfering were not meant to speed up reforms but to avert intervention.

O’Neill sought Catholic quiescence to a unionist state, as his reaction to the 5 October civil rights demonstration showed.  Rather than criticise or apologise for the violence of the RUC he threatened to mobilise the even more sectarian and ill-disciplined B-Special Constabulary.

The limited character of the November reform package was clear, while his call for an end to civil rights demonstrations was precisely the objective of hard-line unionists, and also of the Paisley counter-demonstrations that had generated much of the violence.  Given these circumstances it was not unreasonable or even unexpected that this commitment to reform, and resistance to the right wing inside and outside the Unionist Party, would be tested.

It was only a question of time, although even today some controversy and condemnation attends to the Peoples Democracy march in January 1969 that did the testing.

Back to part 6

Forward to part 8

From Civil Rights to ‘the Troubles’ 6 – the Civil Rights Association

One hundred delegates attended the founding conference of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) on 9 April 1967, electing a thirteen person steering committee made up of trade unionists, the Campaign for Social Justice, Communist Party of Northern Ireland, republicans, and the Ulster Liberal Party.  One Young Unionist was also co-opted later.  Its constitution was based on that of the British National Council Civil Liberties, now called Liberty.

The NICRA constitution of 1967 made no explicit mention of either voting rights or discrimination and its five objectives were stated in rather general terms:

(1) To defend the basic freedoms of all citizens

(2) To protect the rights of the individual

(3) To highlight all possible abuses of power.

(4) To demand guarantees for freedom of speech, assembly and association

(5) To inform the public of their lawful rights.

These objectives avoided the direct issues of sectarian discrimination in housing and employment, the issue of ‘one man, one vote’ and the particular repression enshrined in the Special Powers Act.

The demands, coupled with the inspiration for the constitution, indicated that the new body, like organisations reviewed in the previous post, did not intend to be a campaigning organisation that would mobilise on the streets but a representative one, dealing with individual cases and focusing on defence of existing rights.

With this conception of its role it was destined for the same ineffectiveness and disappointment as the CSJ, and the resolutions and meetings held previously by the NILP and trade unions.  As one prominent participant, Fred Heatley put it – “the first eighteen months was a time of frustration.”  Letters to Stormont were dismissed after delay and two representatives were turfed out of a police station after trying to make representations, “but the most annoying aspect of the early period was the lack of real interest shown by our first council members – at times we couldn’t muster up the required six members for a quorum at the monthly meetings.”  A body that couldn’t get its leaders to a monthly meeting was hardly going to get masses of people onto the streets.

Some changes to the membership the next year appeared to make no difference.  What did make a difference  was a minimal responsiveness to what was happening outside and its effective co-option by these more powerful forces that were stirring.  It was not NICRA that propelled civil rights to the top of the political agenda but the stirring of political forces that pushed NICRA to the fore, against the wishes of some of its earliest leaders.

The Unionist Government’s proscription of the Republican Clubs, the political organisation of republicans in the North, and a ban on their demonstrations, clearly came within the ambit of NICRA’s declared objectives.  So one of its first public actions was to oppose proscription, with Betty Sinclair of the Communist Party of Northern Ireland attempting to avoid being seen to endorse the politics of the republicans by claiming that the Unionist proscription could threaten the Orange Order as well!

The banning of marches and the defiance of such bans could not be seen as incidental to the campaign for civil rights. Challenging the restrictions on protest and the use of mass mobilisation to exert political pressure was one of the key goals of many of those within the movement, explicitly stated in the NICRA aim of ‘freedom of speech, assembly and association’. It was part of the logic of civil rights and its early prominence was anticipation of the explosive issue it was quickly to become.

It was the one NICRA objective that spelled out its requirements in quite specific terms – for ‘freedom of speech, assembly and association’. While there is a tendency sometimes to pass quickly over this, it indicated that repression and state restrictions on protest were a central issue even before the marching campaign began. The Unionist government enjoyed extensive repressive powers under the Special Powers Act, including internment and the power to ban assemblies, marches, publications, and parties.  All of these became crucial in future events and ‘the Troubles’, indicating the continuity between the civil rights campaign and the political campaigning that continued even into the period of the Troubles, which is now remembered solely for political violence.

The official history of NICRA states that the association began to realise in early 1968 ‘that a ban on their demonstrations was an effective government weapon against political protest’ and that marches would provide a more effective way of exerting political pressure than letter-writing.  But even then, it was not from within NICRA that the first civil rights march arose.

The first demonstration arose from protests against the allocation of a house in Caledon, outside Dungannon, to a nineteen-year old Protestant and the eviction of a Catholic family who had squatted in it.  It was the initiative of Nationalist MP Austin Currie who proposed a march from Coalisland to Dungannon, receiving the sponsorship of NICRA after some delay through support from the CSJ and republicans and despite opposition by Communist Party member Betty Sinclair.

In the event it was attended by about 2,000 and faced a counter-protest of around 1,500 loyalists.  Ian Paisley’s Ulster Protestant Volunteers announced a rally at the same time and place as the civil rights meeting at the end of their march in what they regarded as Protestant territory – a common means of stopping parades.  The police re-routed the civil rights march to the Catholic part of the town but NICRA refused, since this would have implied that theirs was a sectarian demonstration, and in the end there were only minor clashes with the police.  The march had a distinctly nationalist colouring, which was pretty much inevitable given the character of the population demonstrating, but was regarded as a success.

Shortly afterwards Derry Housing Action Committee (DHAC) approached NICRA with a proposal for a march in Derry. DHAC was a coalition of left wingers in the NILP and radicals in the Republican Clubs.  NICRA agreed to sponsor it as well but it was the left in Derry that had responsibility for organising it, supported by the Young Socialists in Belfast.

The demonstration was to start across the bridge in the Waterside, considered the Protestant side of the town and the demonstration was banned by the hard-line Stormont Minister Bill Craig, even though a loyal order event that had previously been announced had been withdrawn.

The demonstration did not reach the 5,000 hoped for by the organisers and the local paper estimated only 350 to 400 took part, with a quarter of them students from Belfast, although swelling later to about 1,000. At its front rank were later leaders of the Social Democratic and Labour Party and a number of British Labour Party MPs.

Famously, the march was attacked by the police and part of the attack recorded by Irish television and replayed in dramatic pictures relayed across Britain and Ireland.  For many, this was the start of the civil rights campaign, and for many the inevitable slide to the Troubles.  A later official British report into the events of the day found that four policemen had been injured and a further seven during later clashes on the City side, while seventy-seven civilians were injured, mostly with lacerations to the head.

From the moment that the RUC baton-charged the march in Derry in October 1968 repression of protest became a central mobilising issue, but did not yet dominate the objectives of the demonstrations themselves, which still demanded civil rights, now captured in rather clearer and pithy language that the original objectives of NICRA. This reflected the fact that the civil rights movement was still on the political offensive despite the attempt to baton it off the streets.  Unlike later struggles around military repression, the opposition to the repression of civil rights marches did not impose a defensive stance on the movement.  Its civil rights demands still defined a movement on the offensive.

This meant that the movement had not become simply a traditional nationalist one – the view of the Unionist Government and many Protestants – that it was another republican plot to destroy the Unionist State.  This was ensured by the unity that existed inside the campaign around the civil rights agenda, which although it contained nationalists as its mass base also included the radical left as a socialist component.

It was nonetheless a movement that challenged unionist domination and the unionist monopoly on political power, which was one of the main reasons why even liberal unionists steered clear of it. So while there were prominent Protestant figures involved, the movement was overwhelmingly composed of those from a Catholic background.  Definition as a socialist did not exclude one from unionist charges of anti-Protestantism but rather confirmed one’s involvement in a conspiracy that stretched from republicans to communists. In any case, while socialists might be prominent they were never numerous enough to determine the way the movement, or those who supported it, were perceived and how they would react to repression.

The lack of a large Protestant support not only removed any potential constraints on Unionist leaders or loyalist organisations but severely weakened the socialist perspective of using civil rights as a means of uniting Catholic and Protestant workers. The socialist imperative of non-sectarianism did not have an immediate payback in terms of winning Protestant support but instead sought its justification in terms of the tactics to be employed by the movement (mass action) and much more radical long-term aims (workers unity) with therefore a much longer term payback.

In the meantime, those who most loudly declared the civil rights campaign a Catholic/Communist conspiracy against Protestants were involved in their own conspiracy to prevent the campaign growing and developing one of their own, one that would ensure sectarianism continued to enforce its division.

The mid-1960s may have seen efforts, eventually successful, to create a civil rights campaign, but it also saw the creation of the Ulster Volunteer Force, and the rise of Ian Paisley.  By the time of the creation of NICRA the UVF had already murdered and Paisley had inspired riots.

Back to part 5

Welcome to my World

Image result for boris johnson and dup

When I discovered that Boris Johnson’s proposals for a new exit deal from the European Union would require the approval of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, I thought to myself – welcome to my world!

The thought of the Unionist veto applying not only to this little corner of Ireland but also to the whole UK and even to the rest of Europe – wielded by that very incarnation of reasoned moderation and altruistic benevolence – the DUP!

What poetic justice that all the rational and sensible advocates of just such an arrangement in my miniature polity were now invited to subject themselves to the same enlightened principle of majority rule, while acknowledging the limitless legitimacy of Unionism and its glorious traditions.  The rules of trade between the entire UK and the EU Single Market would be exposed to the approval of the DUP; and just in case they had all been on a fully paid up holiday – paid for by some generous dictator – they could change their minds every four years.

Every four years the rest of Europe would wait with baited breath while the DUP decided whether it wished to continue “regulatory alignment” with the Single Market, knowing that the EU had agreed with the British Government proposal for “a firm commitment (by both parties) never to conduct checks at the border in future.”  The rest of the world would also hold its breath to see if, given EU unhindered access to the UK market and UK unhindered access to the EU Single Market, they might not also employ world trade rules to demand similar unimpeded entry.

I pictured horrified faces in the offices of State across Europe and in the corridors of the Brussels bureaucracy.  But surely they would continue to show their solidarity with the Irish Government and the Irish member State?  And surely since this state has considered such a mechanism so good that the whole EU-UK exit deal had to revolve around protection of the Good Friday Agreement, which made unionist consent a bedrock principle of the one holy and indivisible peace process, this couldn’t be such a bad idea?

The excellence of such arrangements is so obvious – who could demur to such an obvious meretricious solution?  So, who then could dispute the reaction of the DUP to criticism of this arrangement from the Irish Government?

Of course, it would have to be admitted that DUP denunciation of Irish Government leaders seemed a teeny bit hypocritical, when it stated that Simon Coveney was “obstructionist and intransigent” and that he exhibited “a majoritarian desire to ride roughshod over unionism.”  Similarly, it might seem slightly awry for the DUP to say that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste were “ramping up the rhetoric” and that the former would “go down in history as the Taoiseach who restored a hard border.”

I have to admit I wasn’t sure if this last accusation was actually a complaint, or whether it was only in the sense of saying – that’s our job.  In any case, with such comments, and Boris Johnson promising to be a model of “gelatinous emollience”, and Jeremy Corbyn saying that “no Labour MP could support such a reckless deal”, I thought the whole world had turned on its axis in the wrong direction.  It was as if there was a new eleventh plague, in addition to frogs going “up on you and your people and all your officials” threatened in Exodus, one that would prove the truth of the DUP’s almost biblical politics.

Of course Marxists want the world turned upside down and now it seemed as if it was, maybe just not the way we might have wanted, although some who describe themselves as Marxists, but who support Brexit, seem to believe that turning things upside down is not only necessary but also sufficient – no matter how the fan has spread the shit, as long as it has hit it.

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the deal proposed by Boris Johnson is the sort of dog’s dinner that any sensible dog would turn down.  The EU saying it is “unconvinced” is like a lottery winner saying he’s not persuaded of suicide just yet.  Saying it “did not fully meet the agreed objectives of the backstop” is true, in the sense that the remaining ‘gap’ is similar to me entering the marathon at the Olympics to be informed that Woody Allen was correct when he said that “80 percent of success is showing up.”

In other words, the proposed protocol cannot be considered as a serious candidate for a deal acceptable to the EU, and Johnson knows it. This is then believed to be evidence of his desire for a no deal, but given the safety net provided by the parliamentary opposition through the Benn Act requiring him to ask for an extension, this is not the case.

Johnson has been able to put together a proposal that commentators knowingly note is not a proposed deal with the EU but with the ultra-Tories, Brexit Party and DUP; a deal that supports his Brexit credentials in the upcoming general election.

It also has enough scope, given Johnson’s idea of consistency, for further amendment after any return to Government following an election to allow him to strike a deal with the EU. The detail, so far unpublished, might provide clues to this possible direction of travel.

Removing the DUP veto with some nebulous consultation with the Irish natives in the North will suffice to replace the ridiculous notion that a zombie assembly will dictate the integrity of the EU’s Single Market; and strengthening the Irish Sea checks would be necessary to allow the North to be in a separate customs territory with the EU.

Meanwhile the left in Ireland continues with business as usual, rolling out the same solutions that they have been advocating for decades but without the least prospect of them being applied to meet the problems that are arising right now.

So, the Socialist Party recognises that “a no-deal Brexit will bring enormous hardship for working-class people. Reports, including from the government, have indicated that anywhere from 40 -100,000 job losses can be expected in the south of Ireland.”  But all it can do is call upon the trade union movement to carry out an ‘action plan’ for which it has shown not the slightest sign of planning to act.  How could this be considered a real alternative to job losses, as opposed to the usual propaganda?

The Party calls for nationalisation and a break with the system without it registering that nationalisation is not a break with the system and is not socialist. The Party has just undergone another split but with neither side mentioning this approaching “enormous hardship” in their statements.  If they can’t take their own warnings seriously . . .

People before Profit criticises Unionists for wanting a hard border but not for Unionist support for what is giving rise to this hard border.  Instead it blames the EU and the Irish Government – “both the EU and the Irish government will claim that they are not to blame for imposing this border – the responsibility lies with Britain.  But once they erect border posts on the Southern side, this will give the British Tories the excuse to follow suit. It will not matter then who started it – we will have to live with a strengthened form of partition.”

Who, or rather what, started it was of course Brexit. People before Profit state that the DUP’s Sammy “Wilson and his Tory friend Johnson should be told that there will be mass peaceful civil disobedience to take down many of the border posts they erect.”

But how would this prevent the thousands of redundancies due to the import of cheaper products originating outside the EU that might come in through the North; or the cheaper imports to Britain that Irish producers cannot compete with; or the decline in demand from the UK as its economy declines?  How would taking down customs posts avoid the need for certification of regulatory and customs checks that business will require to ensure that final sale to consumers or wholesalers demonstrates compliance with safety and other regulatory requirements?  How will turfing these posts avoid all the costs that will put small business out of business?  Protest politics, to which this left is in thrall, has no answer to how to actually run a society as opposed to just allowing people to express how unjust it is.

When this politics does actually look to an alternative it calls for the politicians and state it declares to be the problem to provide the solution, through ‘pressure’ and, of course, nationalisation.  One might have thought that the role of nationalisation in saddling the Irish people with the gambling debts of the banks would have made them think twice before repeatedly trotting out nationalisation as a working class solution.  But apparently not.

It is obvious to everyone but this left that the solution to the problems created by Brexit is not to have Brexit at all.  But, of course, these people supported Brexit and are responsible for it.  That they don’t like its results, that they say it isn’t what they voted for (and you don’t hear them say this very often anyway), is neither here nor there.  Who cares what was going through their heads when they voted for Brexit?  What they thought they were voting for was not what was on offer, but they still voted for it, and what’s more, their claims not to support it is belied by their continued support for it!

The objective logic of the reactionary character of Brexit imposes itself on both its left and right supporters through the fantasy character of their promises and their professed plans to make it work.  Johnson is by all accounts not convinced Brexit is a good idea but he needs it, at least for now, to achieve his personal ambition through satisfying the dying fantasies of the Tory faithful.  So we have the dog’s dinner of a Protocol, which the EU refuses to take seriously.

The DUP supported Brexit because it chimed with all their backward instincts while cleaving to the imagined power of a once-mighty imperial Britain they regard as their only bulwark to their reactionary position in Ireland.  But they also understand that Brexit has weakened the appeal of Unionism in the North and have shifted to accepting some regulatory checks down the Irish sea.

The non-solutions to Brexit put forward by the Brexit supporting left demonstrates that they too have no way for this support to deliver on their declared objectives.  If they took their politics the least bit seriously, they would be praying that Jeremy Corbyn deliver his ‘good’ Brexit.

This however would demonstrate their own impotence and dependence on the reformist politics their existence is meant to be a standing repudiation of. It would also tie them to the fortunes of a failing project that is failing precisely because of its support for Brexit.  Were Corbyn’s proposed deal to be achieved it would be on the basis of an agreement with the EU devil and all its creations – the Single Market and Customs Union.  It would be Brexit in name only and this is no more what this left claims it wants than do the ranks of the Tory and Farage parties.

Brexit cannot deliver what its supporters claim.  How appropriate then that it should seem to founder on that other great failure – the Good Friday Agreement.  But illusions die hard.  To paraphrase something meant to have been said by Keynes, some people can remain irrational longer than their illusion can remain in existence.

 

Corbyn wins and condemns himself to defeat

Image result for labour party conference 2019

The Labour Party has just decided, in advance of the general election that cannot be far off, that it won’t tell those who might think of voting for it whether, on the big issue of our time, it is in favour of Brexit or against it.  It wants instead to unite the nation around the belief that this is so unimportant that you don’t really need to know.

According to its leader Brexit might, or might not, be better than Remain, although if you believe what he says about his ability to strike a ‘credible’ deal, that might indicate to you that your support for Labour will result in support for Brexit.

Or, if Johnson decides to go for a deal that the EU will accept, it might well mean that Labour will support that deal instead. Perhaps by allowing it to pass through parliament so it can then be opposed by way of referendum, if it gets one?  Not very consistent and not very principled, but since when have these qualities ever contaminated Labour’s position on Brexit since the referendum?

The Party says it ‘respects’ the 2016 referendum result.  Any deal would undoubtedly involve a transition period within which future arrangements would be determined, so that the Labour Party could perhaps claim to have another opportunity to negotiate its own Brexit final arrangements.

After all, a Johnson deal would not be far from the Theresa May deal and the Party spent long enough before deciding not to support it.  Forced in the future by any parliamentary majority in support of such a deal the Party would be compelled to stop playing games and might find it hard not to continue ‘respecting’ the referendum result and allow the Tories to have their Brexit.

There is therefore absolutely no reason why the absurd position Labour has concocted should not throw up further absurdities, already its competitors in the opposition are picking apart the corpse of Labour’s non-opposition to Brexit.

But of course all this means that the real position of the Party is not to remain neutral but to continue to see how a ‘good’ Brexit could be obtained.  Not that this matters.

The Labour leadership wants its members and supporters to continue to play the role of mushrooms and to forget that with this policy it received less than 15% of the vote in the European elections. It wants everyone to forget about being out-polled by the Liberal Democrats for the first time since 1910, a party on the way out just before; forget that it failed to win a majority in 2017 with 40% of the vote but has only around two-thirds of that support now in one opinion poll after another.

So, it doesn’t matter because Labour will go into the election with a dishonest position, that makes no sense even on its own terms; that has proved a failure in the European and local elections; that is opposed by the vast majority of its members and big majority of its supporters, and that will most certainly lead to defeat.

Worst of all, its true position – support for Brexit – is a reactionary policy that will condemn workers in Britain and the North of Ireland to severe attacks on their living standards and democratic rights.

Socialists cannot support such a policy and such a perspective.  All other Labour promises mean nothing in light of it since the economic decline that Brexit will cause will rule them out anyway.  Brexit as a Tory policy will be delivered as a Tory policy by its authors.

From now on the Labour leadership can promise no more than defeat and trailing after the agenda-setting Tories.  All the anti-Tory invective and promises of a Labour transformation are now meaningless.  Rarely has opportunism been so inopportune.  So why is this?

Undoubtedly much of the Labour leadership such as McDonnell knows that the policy is a disaster – the evidence is too obvious to ignore, but they cling to Corbyn because the union bureaucrats cling to him.  They in turn aren’t interested in transformation but only in having a friendly state bureaucracy with which to cut deals, which requires a Labour Government. The failure of the Corbyn project to democratise the party means that these leadership figures have no base outside of him, which is unfortunate since he has just shit all over it so he won’t have one soon either.

The apparatus around Corbyn is Stalinist and believes in a purely national road to what it calls socialism but which has just exhibited what this really means by the vote at the conference. First Corbyn explains the new Brexit policy on the Andrew Marr show; then screws up getting rid of one Blairite Deputy Leader; then cobbles an NEC decision and conference resolution without a meeting and discussion; and then doesn’t bother to properly count the vote in the conference before it trumpets success over the membership.

For some, this type of politics is just a variety of socialism, a difference in approach among various others, but once again Stalinism has proved itself to have nothing to do with socialism.  Stalin thought control of the apparatus of the Soviet State would ensure perpetual rule of his degenerate system and history has given its verdict on that.  As I noted in my last post on this, Corbyn and his Stalinist coterie believe that a Corbyn Labour Party can be assured, not by democratising the Party, but by a Corbyn apparatus.  This idea will go the same way as the Soviet Union, only much more quickly.

At such times it would seem appropriate to make a call for ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’ but it’s necessary to be clear what this means.  “Pessimism of the intellect’ – don’t recoil from the conclusions to be drawn from Corbyn’s failure – ‘Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit’ – makes no sense at all, and would be a case of what is now called cognitive dissonance. “Optimism of the Will” – don’t recoil from acting on this conclusion by breaking from Corbyn and creating firmer ground for socialists inside and outside the Party.

The Labour conference has shown there is plenty of room in politics for duplicity, insincerity and underhandedness.  What there isn’t room for is stupidity, which means there is no room for Corbyn’s Brexit policy and no room for him.