The Irish Socialist Party and Brexit 1

The Irish Socialist Party, in common with the Socialist Workers and Communist Party, is a supporter of Brexit.  What makes its particular position worth discussing is the way it brings to the fore the consequences.

In an article last year the Socialist Party writer is right about these economic consequences. He writes that  “a sudden and sharp economic shock would result . . . an economic recession would almost certainly follow. . .  a fall in living standards would be most likely, as inflation would rise and wages fall in real terms. If the hard-right Brexiteers are by then the dominant force in the Tory government workers are right to fear a race to the bottom and attempts to create a low-tax, low-wage, unregulated economy.”

Yet none of this prevented the Party from supporting Brexit and being the force behind the union I am a member of endorsing it, much to the surprise of many of its members.  Given that it is the job of trade unions to prevent and resist such attacks it seems incredible that a trade union would invite them, but that is where we are.

In full awareness of these consequences the Socialist Party has said that “an emergency conference, with the widest participation of workers’ representatives from workplaces across Ireland, North and South, must be convened, in order to allow a full democratic discussion on how to best oppose both the EU and the attacks of the Fine Gael and Tory governments.”

As it makes clear, it is attacks from the British Government which will be the most immediate and swingeing and unfortunately while Brexit may be coming, there is no sign of the workers’ conference.  This should not come as a surprise.

The Socialist Party will know that Irish workers, particularly in the North, are not in a position to fight the effects of Brexit through any sort of militant action that might provide some minimal chance of success.  In the North the Stormont administration was able to impose years of austerity, real wage cuts and thousands of redundancies in the public sector with little difficulty.  Effective resistance to a much greater offensive can therefore hardly be anticipated with any degree of confidence.

What should have been expected instead is that, faced with such a threat, socialists in the trade unions would have opposed Brexit.  Certainly not invite the attack and then rely on a working class response.  This does not absolve socialists from now arguing for such a resistance, but it behoves us to have prevented it in the first place if we could. It is one thing to be up a creek without a paddle trying to do one’s best, and quite another to have wilfully decided to go up the creek and throw away the paddle.

There is some sort of argument in the article justifying support for Brexit through the remark that “workers’ rights have been won through struggle, and will be defended through struggle”; while we should have no illusions in the EU to defend our rights.

Unfortunately, while at a very general level it is true that workers’ rights will be won and defended through struggle, this is only a partial truth.  In other words, we have to ask ourselves whether in this particular situation and at this particular time – how do we defend working class interests?

It must therefore be recognised that at this particular time it happens to be the case, as the Socialist Party itself has acknowledged, that the EU is demanding that the:

“UK must observe “level playing field” commitments on competition, state aid, employment and environmental standards and tax. All of this is designed to ensure that UK businesses are not able to undercut EU industry. Brussels has also demanded “dynamic alignment” on state aid, which would oblige the UK parliament to simply cut and paste EU regulations as they are issued. “Non-regression clauses” will prevent the UK from bringing in lower standards on social, environmental and labour regulations such as working hours. These requirements are anathema to Tory Brexiteers, for whom leaving the EU represents an opportunity to head towards a low-tax, light-regulation economy such as that seen in Singapore.”

So at this particular time the EU, for its own reasons and purposes, wants to prevent the attacks on workers in the UK that Brexit is designed to carry out.  This is not to sow illusions in the EU but to accept the reality that the Socialist Party has recognised.

The argument put by the Party is that the rules of the EU prevent the British working class from moving forward. And this is true as far as it goes, as far as these rules – such as those relating to state aid – exist and can be applied.  There is certainly a debate as to the extent that this may be the case, while there is also the potential to struggle to change these rules or prevent their application.

But all this is also true of the rules of the British State.  Along with the other Member States it has major responsibility for the EU rules to which socialists object.  It makes no sense to prefer these Member States to the EU on such grounds.  Thatcherism’ is not a French or German word.  The anti-trade union laws, privatisation and austerity are as much British as EU creations, and what delivered the historic defeats of the British working class was not the EU but the British State.

There is an ancillary question whether, given Brexit, it is even possible to suggest that British workers today can take big strides forward, rather than accept that in such a situation the questions before them relate to defending rights and living standards already achieved.  The Socialist Party itself makes it clear that Brexit does not herald a period of advance but the necessity to organise defence on a scale not seen for a long time.

That is why the debate about Brexit has been about Brexit, about its effects, and not at all about how the British working class can move forward to take advantage of it.  So rather than call for a conference to resist these attacks it would have been far better to head them off before they could begin.

The idea of an all-island workers’ conference is a good one, but it is currently only a good idea.  Given the level of struggle and organisation of the Irish working class it was, and is, unrealistic to expect such a conference to both emerge and be adequate to the tasks that it would face. We know this from the inability of the working class to effectively resist the attacks it already faces, never mind a whole raft of new ones.

We cannot have expected the Irish trade union movement to organise such a conference, since it would not do so over water charges in the South. When sections of it did organise on this issue, they did so in their usual bureaucratic manner, which cripples a movement’s capacity before it has even started.

For the Irish Congress of Trade Unions there is no need for an all-island workers’ conference because that is considered, and indeed should be, the role of ICTU itself.  If the socialist movement is unable to turn the existing all-island organisation towards addressing the tasks presented by Brexit there can hardly be much reason to believe it would be able to create a real alternative from scratch.  Already ICTU has surrendered and accepted Theresa May’s take on what Brexit should mean and has abandoned opposition.

In any case, one of the first questions that would be posed to socialist organisations at such a conference would be why they supported Brexit in the first place?

One final point is worth making here in relation to the defense of workers’ living standards.  It is not true that only working class struggle can advance working class living standards.  Capitalism itself has given rise to increased living standards, with the potential for much greater increases in the future, and it is just such circumstances that Marxists believe gives rise to the potential for a socialist alternative.

This is an elementary Marxist understanding of capitalism and socialism but it is not one that, having accepted it for ‘theoretical’ purposes, one can then ignore it for political ones.  The dynamics of the capitalist system through which Marx believed this to be the case are still at work and must be taken into account.  Our opposition to capitalism comes from our understanding that there is a more progressive alternative, and not simply from the iniquities or barbarities of the current system, which can only finally be condemned if there is an alternative.

What this means in relation to the current situation is that Brexit is an attempt of one country to reverse the development of capitalism and reverse the international socialisation of production that has characterised it for many decades. It seeks that one country can compete with a much larger bloc on the basis of free market principles more applicable to the 19th century.  It is therefore wholly reactionary even from a modern capitalist viewpoint, and is an attempt to go backwards rather than forwards.

It is not in the interests of the working class to revert to an earlier stage of capitalism where, for example, regulations are torn up to the benefit of those capitalists willing and able to ignore them.  It is not to our benefit to see the costs of our labour power such as health and education imposed on individual workers as opposed to the socialisation of such costs by the capitalist state through organisations such as the National Health Service. It is not in our interest to heighten national division through greater separation of nation states in Europe, when such previous division has only resulted in alliances of the biggest powers in aggressive competition with each other.  Such alliances do not result in the freedom and independence of smaller nations but their subordination within the alliances of the great powers.

This is why the EU is a more advanced form of capitalist formation than a Europe of separate nation states and why the illusions of Brexit in Britain are the illusions of an earlier period of British capitalism and British history.

Of course the EU is a representation of big business.  Such multinational capital is a more advanced form of capitalism than the small private businesses of the 19th century.  Small business has no interest in regulations which it considers to be costly red tape, or minimum employment regulation, or environmental regulation or socialisation of its costs, which it would seek not to incur in any event.

The biggest companies however require state regulation, and regulation that covers multiple state jurisdictions, so that it can produce at the mass scale in as many markets across Europe as possible.  This requires uniform regulations to standardise production, while other costs are externalised and socialised such as health and education, provided by the state or by other private capitals.

This is why, as the Socialist Party says, the EU seeks:

“level playing field” commitments on competition, state aid, employment and environmental standards and tax. All of this is designed to ensure that UK businesses are not able to undercut EU industry. Brussels has also demanded “dynamic alignment” on state aid, which would oblige the UK parliament to simply cut and paste EU regulations as they are issued. “Non-regression clauses” will prevent the UK from bringing in lower standards on social, environmental and labour regulations such as working hours. These requirements are anathema to Tory Brexiteers, for whom leaving the EU represents an opportunity to head towards a low-tax, light-regulation economy such as that seen in Singapore.”

Were we simply anti-capitalists then it might be the case that we would not care which of these variants of capitalism we lived under.  But this is obviously not the case since we oppose austerity and fight in the short term for a different configuration of capitalism than the one austerity would impose.  Because we are socialists it is the development of capitalism, not its retrogression, which allows us to realistically put forward the alternative of socialism, and Brexit and our opposition to it is a demonstration of this.

In the next post I will look at how Brexit fits into the overall programme of the Socialist Party.

Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement 2 – towards a United Ireland?

While the EU may not have been a main actor to the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) or a party to it, and not seen at the time as particularly important to it, this does not thereby mean that Brexit and the creation of a hard border is unimportant.

As I have said before, the creation of a hard border matters not so much because of what happens at the border itself, and the creation of any border controls and infrastructure this will involve, but what it means for what happens behind the border. This does not mean the symbolism and real effects to cross border traffic are unimportant; they will be the visible sign of the stresses that Brexit will impose across Ireland.  It is these stresses that are important and are doubly important because the GFA is not working.  If the GFA was working then there would be less concern that Brexit would destabilise politics in the North.

No part of the UK will suffer as much economic damage from Brexit as Northern Ireland.  Cross border trade, especially of agricultural products will be very badly hit.  In September 2017 British officials told their opposite EU Brexit negotiators that there were 156 distinct areas of North-South cross-border cooperation, and a lot of these depended on EU law.  A no-deal Brexit would leave many without legal basis and unable to function, causing dislocation to everything from health service delivery to the delivery of electricity across the border.

This would not breach the Good Friday Agreement but would signal big problems not just for those along the border seeking the nearest effective health care but for economic growth and employment both North and South.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to someone working in a lamb feed business who predicted that freely imported New Zealand lamb could easily put the factory she works in out of business. Costs to the business have already risen because of Brexit.  The alternative, now mooted by the Tories, of the continuation of tariffs has its own host of problems.  The large state sector in the North will suffer from the decline in tax receipts consequent on the reduction in economic growth.

Some companies based in Northern Ireland have already made advanced plans to move south and others will follow. The largest private sector employer is Bombardier, which makes wings for Airbus.  The Airbus out-going CEO has warned of fierce competition from other countries for the work carried out in the UK even before Brexit has happened. The decline in the value of sterling will hit living standards as much as anywhere else in the UK while being at the end of many supply chains may mean it will hit more.

The move by Britain to exit the EU will leave it a supplicant to other more powerful forces, if it does not otherwise become an arms’ length appendage of the EU.  These forces, such as the US, will be rivals of the EU and in any conflict over trade etc., or geopolitical events, will see them rub up against each other, just as now the controversy over the backstop is a reflection of the border between the EU and the UK.

This will not lead to cross-border cooperation but to a border upon which various frictions can be played out.  In this sense, Brexit will undermine the relationship between Britain and the Irish State, which the GFA signalled was in many ways aligned.  The first and most obvious friction to arise may be negotiation of a new free trade deal between the EU and the UK after Brexit.

These economic effects will therefore reverberate into political ones.  None of the effects of Brexit will have any democratic legitimacy as 56 per cent in Northern Ireland voted to Remain in the EU.  Within the North the DUP will be seen as the architects of the disaster.  The majority of unionists voted for Brexit while the vast majority of nationalists voted to Remain.

Avoidance of the Brexit divide mirroring and strengthening the sectarian divide will be difficult.  The British nationalist and reactionary imperialist prejudices that motivated Brexit are an important part of unionist ideology

So to some extent avoidance will depend on the estimated one third of unionists who voted to Remain, although not only on them.  There are an increasing number of people in the North who don’t identify as Protestant or Catholic, although it is not possible to say that they don’t therefore have a view on the border.  It is also obvious that Catholic nationalists can also play a more progressive or more reactionary role – the demand for a United Ireland is historically a progressive one that socialist should support but, like many historical tasks, it can be solved in either a progressive or a reactionary fashion and socialists cannot be indifferent to these alternatives.

Only the most ignorant could believe that any greater hardship following Brexit will overcome sectarian consciousness and serve to develop class consciousness.  Still less is this the case if sectarian division is reinforced by its effects.  It is therefore extraordinary that the small socialist movement has mostly ruled itself out of any progressive role by supporting the Brexit that they simultaneously worry will increase sectarian division.  Everyone can make a mistake but doubling down on it, as they have, makes their position inexcusable.

So this brings us to the second part of the argument, that Brexit creates the grounds for a vote for a united Ireland.

If the same development of consciousness in the North of Ireland that has taken place in Britain were now occurring then this might be a possibility; that is one where a wide section of the population has developed a Remain political identity that rivals and exceeds that of traditional party identity (which in the North largely reflects the sectarian divide). But this is not the case.

It is not the case, for example, that most unionist Remainers will drop their unionism for the sake of support for remaining in the EU and a united Ireland, even if Brexit proves to be economically disastrous.  Unionism will be weakened and some may revise their unionism, but not in enough numbers to change the current arithmetic of a majority in the North in favour of partition.  Much more likely is that the economic damage inflicted by Brexit will make middle class nationalists more fervent supporters of a united Ireland, which is currently muted by many of their number having a relatively comfortable standard of living, while also no longer subject to the same indignities arising from Protestant sectarianism that existed in the past.

But this will not produce a majority vote for a united Ireland.  There is not yet a Catholic majority in the North of Ireland, even were all these politically nationalist and committed to a united Ireland, which is not the case.  Demographics’ is not politics.  So, while the religious split was 65% Protestant and 35% Catholic when the Northern State was set up, and it is now 48% and 45%, respectively, this does not suggest a majority for a united Ireland, Brexit or no Brexit.

What there is, is a growing Catholic population, which labour force statistics show has grown to almost equal that of Protestants in the workforce, i.e. not just among the very young.  The latest Labour Force Survey has shown that the population aged 16 and over defined as Protestant has declined by 14 percentage points since 1990 from 56% to 42%, while the number of working age Catholics has increased from 38% to 41%. The remaining 17% define themselves as ‘other/non-determined’ an increase from 6% in 1990.  While population forecasts are unreliable, it is argued that Catholics will outnumber Protestants in the population in 5 to 10 years time, while it is more obvious that those not defining themselves as either will form the pivot.

This population shift has many social and political ramifications that are already playing out. In 1992, 69% of working age Protestants and 54% of Catholics were in employment, but by 2017 the respective figures were 70% and 67%.  In 1992 76% of working-age Protestants were economically active (as opposed to in employment) while the percentage of Catholics was 66%.  By 2017 the respective figures were 73% and 70%.

The politically totemic figures on religious unemployment, so often in the past held up as evidence of sectarian discrimination, have moved from a 9% unemployment level for Protestants and 18% for Catholics in 1990 to 4% for both in 2017.

A state cannot function efficiently on the political exclusion of a minority this size, especially one repeatedly predicted to become a majority.  The GFA created a political framework that, it was hoped by its architects, would allow a fair balance of political power between two separate populations defined by sectarian identity, but this identity inevitably entails sectarian competition, which accounts for the political instability that Brexit will only accentuate.

But once again it has to be noted that Brexit hasn’t created the problem of sectarian competition and political paralysis.  Brexit is threatening because the GFA isn’t working and cannot work to deliver a ‘fair’ balance of power between sectarian blocs, when these blocs exist only in opposition to each other.

What might reasonably be expected is that the effects of Brexit are widely enough recognised to be the fault of Brexit and that those that supported it lose influence and power.  This might also entail growing recognition of British decline and the benefits of unity with a state still in the EU.

This would ally with parallel processes that have also become obvious.  Traditional Protestant opposition to a united Ireland has portrayed itself as opposition to ‘Rome rule’, while the development of a more secular consciousness in the south of Ireland has shown that for many this ‘Rome rule’ claim was only a cover for their own sectarianism.  It is also however the case that the growth of secular consciousness, and especially the demand for abortion and gay rights, that might feed into opposition to the Northern State as presently constituted, does not threaten it.  Most supporters of such rights fully expect them to be delivered eventually within the Northern State.

Much has been made of opinion polls that show the potential for a majority for a united Ireland arising from Brexit, and especially from a no-deal Brexit.  But this often appears to be selecting the results that one likes and ignoring others.  The fact that those defining themselves as Unionist have begun to score less than 50% in elections has also been hailed as a harbinger of the near-future, ignoring that the majority of the 11% ‘others’, that is not nationalists, have favoured remaining in the UK.

The ‘Irish Times’ reported last October that the five most recent opinion polls showed support for the North staying in the UK ranging from 45% to 55% and averaging 50%.  And it is certainly true that more people think that Brexit will make a united Ireland more likely.   A poll by RTE and BBC reported in November showed that 62% of those polled believed this.

Other recent polls are not so kind to the view that there is an imminent majority for a united Ireland. A MORI poll for academics at Queens University Belfast found just 21% would vote for Irish unity after Brexit.  A second poll, commissioned by Policy Exchange across the UK, found support for membership of the UK at 58%, although the sample size for Northern Ireland was only 500. A poll by LucidTalk reported in October found that 33.7% would vote for a united Ireland if a referendum was called immediately.

It would appear that the company carrying out the polling affects the result, with Ipsos MORI showing lower figures in favour of Irish unity compared to LucidTalk. But these MORI polls also show an increase in support for Irish unity, if not yet anywhere near a majority, with those in these polls in favour of Irish unity increasing from 21% in 2013, to 26% in 2016 and 30% in 2018.

So what we are seeing is the development of objective conditions which assist the move to a united Ireland, and on a progressive basis, but which needs to develop much further for it to give rise to a more immediate threat to the state created for sectarian reasons and defined by its sectarian composition.

A progressive solution requires a conscious political movement that gives more coherent expression to these progressive developments and also fights sectarianism.  This means more than simply pronouncing its absence from its ranks.  It means not trying to accommodate, manage or conciliate sectarianism but consciously fighting it and those who practice it.  The victory of democratic, never mind socialist, politics necessarily entails the defeat of all the sectarian forces, and particularly means the defeat of unionism and loyalism.

As the alliance of the DUP with the Tories once again shows, and even Corbyn’s expression of concern at the unionist position also illustrates, this includes implacable opposition to the divisiveness of British rule. While claiming disinterest the British state has routinely placated the most extreme loyalism, and when threatened actively supported and organised it.

So it is not that Brexit threatens the Good Friday Agreement so much as the disintegration of the Agreement makes Brexit a threat to political stability.  Were the institutions of the GFA working as they were intended Brexit would not present the threat that it does, which will persist in undermining the Northern State beyond any immediate shock.

Whether this threat to the State leads to democratic change or reactionary sectarian conflict, or rather whether democratic change overcomes sectarian conflict, will depend to some exent on how progressive forces organise and around what political programme. In this regard a future post will look at whether socialists should support demands for a border poll.

It must be admitted however that the existing weakness of the working class as an independent political actor inside the North means that socialists are at the stage of seeking to develop independent working class politics rather than realistically presenting these as an immediate solution to sectarian and political division.  This political division includes the bystander status which the working class in the South has become accustomed to taking when it comes to the political development of the movement in the North.

Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement 1

The British parliament has voted for a no deal Brexit through the Tory demand that the backstop, that would prevent a hard border inside Ireland, should be removed.  Theresa May has gone to Europe (again) and been told the Withdrawal Agreement will not be re-opened for negotiation.  Her humiliation (again) was partially avoided by attention switching to Donald Tusk’s remark about a special place in hell for those who led Brexit without a plan.

Theresa May continues to kick the can down the road in an attempt to blackmail MPs into supporting her deal as the only way to avoid a no deal exit.  The alternative is an extension of Article 50 to postpone the dreaded decision.

But lo and behold, here then comes Jeremy Corbyn to overturn his demand that the Withdrawal Agreement pass his six tests and instead he demands five tests from the Political Declaration. Since this declaration has no legal force it is purely a political document, which doesn’t make it unimportant but does mean it can contain all sorts of pious wishes and contradictory or impossible elements that could in large part contain what Corbyn has said he wants.  Less charitably it’s not binding and not worth the paper it’s written on.

This may have three effects. It gets May’s deal over the line and we have Brexit.  It makes the Tory deal the basis of this Brexit and it makes them responsible for whatever ensues – as in British business continuing to shift to the rest of Europe that remains part of the EU.  A fourth effect is that Corbyn is seen to be consistent in his demand for a ‘jobs’ Brexit while also sticking to Labour Party policy.

Of course, only one of these is true – the most important one – that Brexit happens.  Corbyn having facilitated Brexit will also own it, and will not be seen to have put into effect what the majority of Labour members thought they were getting from the party’s conference resolution.

In one sense, in supporting the May deal, Corbyn can claim consistency, since both he and May have claimed benefits for Brexit that do not exist; and both have tried to ignore the wishes of the majority of the members of their respective parties.  Left supporters of Brexit claim that such a deal will split the Tories but they ignore the parallel process in the Labour Party.

To hide their complicity in this Tory project the left Brexiteers now regularly claim it doesn’t really matter because Brexit isn’t that important – we shouldn’t get that worked up about it, and really we shouldn’t take sides.  But if there’s one argument that really gets my goat it is this one – having voted for Brexit and a Tory initiative they are trying to cover their tracks.  Their argument is not only bogus but thoroughly dishonest.  Like the right-wing supporters of Brexit the project can only get by on lies, and it doesn’t matter who is telling them, for what purpose or with what motivation.

Corbyn is in the process of betraying the membership in a disregard for their views that equals that of Tony Blair, from whom he was supposed to be so different.  The only hope here is that May does not feel able to get her deal through her party with Labour support and/or the ranks of the Labour Party rise up to prevent the biggest betrayal yet, as they did with the leadership attempt to abstain on Tory immigration plans.

It is not therefore exluded that no deal will happen.

This has provoked the charge that the Tories are effectively tearing up the Good Friday Agreement (GFA). This is sometimes followed by the forecast that this will lead to a vote for a united Ireland on the basis that the majority in the North of Ireland supported and continue to support remaining in the EU.

I don’t believe this to be true.

First, it’s debateable whether a no deal Brexit would amount to tearing up the Good Friday Agreement, either legally or in spirit.

If we take the legal position first, the UK Supreme Court in 2017 stated that the GFA ‘assumed’ but did not ‘require” UK membership of the EU.  Legal academics have claimed that the GFA requires citizens’ rights in the North, and human rights in particular, to be equivalent with the Irish State, but the GFA does not require the UK to be a member of EU’s human rights institutions or signed up to its standards. The GFA contains provisions for establishment of a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights but that’s a dead letter as is the provision for a civic forum.  The North does not have women’s reproductive rights and nor is there the right to gay marriage, unlike the South, but no one is saying that the GFA is therefore dead.

The Common Travel Area will be put under strain by a hard Brexit as EU migrants freely entering through Dublin may be able to cross the border, if that border is ‘soft’, and then travel on to Britain with few checks if there is also no ‘border’ between the island of Ireland and Britain.

Since the main rationale for Brexit was control and reduction of immigration, and its introduction will embolden sundry reactionaries on this score, this will put pressure on to put a border somewhere.  The alternative would be a ‘hostile environment’ inside Britain (and also perhaps Northern Ireland) where daily transactions and activities are used in order to check people’s citizenship status, and we know that the Tories do hostile environments very well.

But these options too may not legally breach the GFA.  So what about its spirit?  Well, this very much depends on what you think the spirit of the GFA is and whether Brexit breaches it.  If you think it was a pacification process that is inherently sectarian then Brexit is hardly going to get you to complain that the GFA’s ‘spirit’ is threatened. What its spirit actually is has been demonstrated in practice, which means you have to ignore the unthinking rhetoric of the great and the good and look at how it has actually worked.

The Agreement has already been mangled and its centrepiece, the Stormont Assembly, has been suspended five times and has currently been suspended for over two years. Other parts of the Agreement, such as the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, hardly exist. Much of the waffle composed of promises relating to good faith, non-discrimination, equality, propriety and accountability with public funds, transparency etc. are thoroughly discredited by the reality of an incompetent, corrupt and sectarian Stormont administration.

The DUP never supported the GFA, so it can be no surprise it isn’t working.  Sinn Fein clung on to Stormont up to its most recent suspension until it became clear its voters would no longer tolerate the humiliation involved. They then rejected the party’s idea of a new deal.  The GFA isn’t working so it’s debateable that Brexit preventing it working makes any practical difference.

It has been pointed out that the EU had little to do with the creation of the Agreement and that, for example, the US had a more significant input.  The Agreement itself does not rely on it and the EU is not a party to it.

The letter of the Agreement states that the British and Irish Governments wish “to develop still further the unique relationship between their peoples and the close co-operation between their countries as friendly neighbours and as partners in the European Union.” There is much about cross-border cooperation on a number of fronts, including agriculture, tourism and health etc. that will all be undermined by a no deal Brexit, but there is nothing that legally invalidates it.

The view that this will lead to a return to political violence rests partly on the lie, repeated endlessly, that the GFA led to the end of political violence, when the truth is that it was the other way round – the ceasefires preceded the political deal and the armed forces that ended the political violence, through the use of much more effective violence, are still present.

So the first part of the argument would appear not to hold; although it is not quite that simple.

to be continued

Brexit – stop digging!

Wayne Asher writes in the International Socialism Journal (ISJ) that “the traditional left in Britain has committed a colossal mistake in its approach to Brexit and is making matters worse by an obsolete refusal to correct it.”

The traditional left, as Asher calls it, is once again exhibiting a failure that can be seen running through its history throughout the twentieth century, involving the subordination of socialist movements to the state, in its nation state form, expressed in a capitulation to nationalism.

The subordination of Social Democracy and its incorporation into the State led to it urging the workers of each country to slaughter each other in World War 1.  This in turn massively reinforced nationalism after the war, leading to an even greater catastrophe in World War 2.

The defeat of the Russian Revolution saw the Stalinist counter-revolution base its politics on the Russian State and more and more on Great Russian nationalism.  Thus today we even have Stalinists who defend Russia (as if it were still a separate social system from capitalism), entirely forgetting why they supported the country in the first place.

The Trotskyist movement has fought a rather lonely battle against this and such has been its isolation many of its subjective adherents are now no more than pale reflections of these larger forces.  So, we often see the espousal of ‘anti-imperialism’ without any progressive or socialist content, and a programme based on state ownership – ‘nationalisation’ –  instead of workers’ ownership.

Also common is a primitive internationalism.  So, for most social democrats the internationalisation of capitalism is to be supported and the working class subordinated to it.  This is expressed in Britain through the majority of Labour MP’s uncritical support for the EU and its supposed progressive agenda.

On the other hand, for Stalinists and the left social democrats influenced by them, the road to socialism remains national and membership of the EU is rejected on this basis.

As for some of those claiming the mantle of Trotskyism, I was reminded of the corruption of organisations claiming to stand on this legacy by a recent article on Brexit by the Irish Socialist Party, which made explicit its perspective of international socialism as simply being the coming together of already socialist nation states.

This view can see no role, except a purely additive one, for the international struggle of workers. In effect, there is no international struggle, at most a solidarity of separate struggles, perhaps still quoting Marx from more than a 150 years ago that the struggle is national in form. Such an approach is really then the Marxist version of the internationalism of nationalism, in which anti-colonial movements reject accusations of their nationalist limitations by saying that they support other nationalist movements, not just their own.  Brexit is yet another example of this left nationalism.

Asher has no difficulty showing that this policy of the organisation of which he was once a member is wrong.  There are however limitations to his critique and his position could be stronger.

The critique is based mainly on the view that the movement for a left Brexit has had no purchase on reality because the supporters of it were so small. In such circumstances he argues that the Brexit project could only be a reactionary one, and so it has obviously proved.

This sort of analysis is the basis on which another organisation I can think of opposed Brexit.  In effect, they have registered the reactionary nature of Brexit in a purely empirical manner by witnessing the nature of its support and effects.  The Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party continue to support it by denying this reality and inventing their own.

Asher shows the reactionary character of the support for Brexit – that it is not a movement of the oppressed against austerity and is not a movement of those ‘left behind’.

Its core vote was Tory, reactionary and racist and his article is worth reading on this account alone if anyone is still in any doubt.

However, this recognition of immediate reality does not provide the right starting point for determining how workers should vote.  It is one thing to recognise the reactionary nature of the campaign for Brexit, but to base our own approach simply on this is to believe that our opposition to Brexit is merely contingent, that we could or should look forward to a ‘good’ left Brexit.  It fails to recognise that the effluvia of reaction that has poured forth from the Brexit campaign was not accidental or contingent but faithful to its nature.

Asher states that “Alex Callinicos’s 2015 article warned “the referendum is about the EU as a whole, not just immigration. Socialists in Britain will have to take a stand on the entire project of European integration”.  Unfortunately Callinicos does not seem to have taken his own advice and frames everything in terms of a disembodied racism that stands above everything else, as we discussed in the previous post.

It is not clear that Asher starts from the place recommended by Callinicos either; he appears simply to argue that the immediate weakness of the left and the reactionary nature of the existing Brexit project was enough to determine the attitude of socialists:

“. . . it is quite possible, as Momentum did—to accept the traditional left analysis of the EU and still argue that the correct decision in the 2016 referendum was to argue for Remain. Whatever the levels of oppression and unpleasantness in today’s Britain, they are not the fault of Brussels but of two decades of New Labour and the Tories, and neither were reliant on Brussels to carry through such policies. Socialists who argued for a Remain vote did so not because of illusions in the EU but because they saw that the main issue in the campaign—given the weakness of the left—would inevitably be reactionary nationalism and outright racism.”

He says of the “formally correct position the left (excluding Momentum)” that “it had a formally correct analysis on the nature of the EU but fell into abstraction because it did not take into account the extreme weakness of left-wing forces and the inevitable nature of the Leave campaign in a downturn that has lasted decades.”

We will not go into what all the features of this “formally correct analysis” of the left might be, except to say that I assume it means that – other things being equal, i.e. a stronger left and weaker right – the correct thing would have been to support Brexit.

In this respect, it should be clear from previous posts that I don’t agree with this, and have argued that the working class should not seek to reverse the progress of capitalism into a more backward and purely national form but should rather build its own alternative on the basis of the international development of capitalism.

In this context, I will simply take up one point made in the article.  Asher absolves the Remain left of a belief ascribed to them by Callinicos “that . . .  the underlying assumption of those on the left supporting a Yes vote is that the EU represents, however imperfectly, the transcendence of nationalism and so internationalists and anti-racists should vote for Britain to remain in the EU”.

It’s not clear to me that Asher agrees with this argument, which might be stated slightly differently as being that one reason to support Brexit is that the EU does not, even in an imperfect way, represent the transcendence of nationalism.

This seems to me to be obviously wrong.

Not because the EU transcends nationalism in the sense of superseding it – given the role of the member states in its operation this would not be possible – but because the EU does represent the development of capitalism beyond the restrictions of national boundaries.  The forces of production of modern capitalism in their most developed forms have transcended the restrictions of the nation state and are international in character.

The Brexit debate has been an education in quite how international capitalist production is.  This includes such a range of industries that the Institute of Directors has said that around 30 per cent of companies, and so not just the large ones, have or will shift some or all of their operations out of the UK.

We only need to consider that the Euro is an international currency, with one Central Bank, that has replaced a number of the most important national currencies, including the Deutsche Mark and Franc

Brexit threatens the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, and was designed to end the freedom of movement that allowed this migration to occur. This movement is but another example of the international development of the forces of production.

In this sense then, the EU does (very imperfectly) represent the transcendence of nationalism.

And this is not just in relation to the economy.  The EU has always been a political project and specifically designed to mitigate certain nationalist antagonisms.  Its supranational political structure is still to a large extent the creature of member states but these states have ceded real political power to supranational bodies.  This is true even of the European Parliament, despite the well-known weakness of its powers.

It should nevertheless not be surprising that the largest nation states carry the biggest clout in the EU and that the easiest nationalisms transcended are the smallest, which doesn’t however include the British.  When some are more powerful than others this transcendence can easily be seen as, and is, subordination, but a perspective of going back to a Europe of purely nation states, the logic of Brexit, is quite clearly not a solution to this but a return to the problem.

The economic and political (imperfect) transcendence of nationalism is reflected in the consciousness of Europe’s population.  Brexit has not prompted a growth of opposition to the EU across Europe and the latest Eurobarometer opinion poll shows increased support for it.  This support is far from uniform or unqualified, but even in the UK Brexit has increased the intensity of support for the European Union.

One opinion poll just before Christmas showed that 30 per cent of Germans supported the proposal by the German politician Martin Schulz for a United States of Europe, which was also supported by 28 per cent of French respondents.  Unsurprisingly the UK was lowest in the poll but even here the proposal was supported by 10 per cent, even though such an eventuality is not even presented for debate, except when it is trashed by Brexiteers.

Asher points out that the supporters of Lexit are in a hole and are still digging.  This is a real problem for the relatively small forces that claim to be Marxist.  As an example of where this might ultimately lead we need only look at Russia where the nationalist depths that Stalinist parties have plumbed has resulted in a programme of extreme national socialism.

This is possible, if only because the left supporters of Brexit are as delusional as its supporters on the right.  In fact, their delusions are greater.  Both live in a world in which Britain can become either the standard bearer of a free market world or a beacon of socialism – if only it were freed from the rest of Europe.

How delusional this can be was revealed to me this week when I attended a meeting on the Irish trade union view of Brexit.  Two speakers from the floor ridiculed the prospect of 27 EU countries electing left or anti-austerity Governments, thereby committing the crime of holding back the UK and Ireland from moving forward.

Aside from the admission that the unity of Europe’s workers was therefore considered to be effectively dead; so, it would have to follow, would any prospect of socialism, which is international or it will not exist.

But what was really delusional was that this claim – that we were being held back – was made in Belfast of all places.  Yes, that city renowned throughout Europe as a trail blazer of working class unity!

Where do you start with such nonsense?

In the hands of such people what we have is not Marxism but a dogmatic Marxism which, because Marxism is not a dogma, is no Marxism at all.

If the contribution of Asher has gone even some way to making the left supporters of Brexit stop digging it will have performed a service.  In this light, we might even see the article by Callinicos as an attempt to stop digging.

It would appear however that some people have yet to show signs of stopping.

Lexit – You were never really there

According to the polls not many people have changed their minds since the referendum, although there may be a few signs that this is beginning to change.  Instead a shift to a Remain majority appears to be from the death of mainly older ‘Leave’ voters and entry to voting age of mainly ‘Remain’ young people.

It might be thought that the reactionary mess of Brexit would cause those supporting Lexit to reconsider but the obstacle to this is obviously the politics that got them to this position in the first place.  I tried to get one supporter of Lexit to address this mess by asking him if he was happy with the way Brexit was going, but he refused to answer.

However, a sign that at least some are debating the question is shown in the latest issue of the International Socialism Journal (ISJ), which contains an article that calls for just such a reconsideration.  In fact, it calls on the Socialist Workers Party to recognise that it made a mistake and to correct that mistake.  It refers to the organisation’s earlier position on the European Economic Community as a way of helping it do so, and I have covered this history in a previous post.

The ISJ also contains an article continuing to defend Lexit from one of the leaders of the SWP, Alex Callinicos.  A fair summary of this article would be ‘we were right, and anyway it doesn’t matter that much.’  In my experience this appears to be a common view among Lexit supporters and has the convenient effect of divorcing themselves from the real world consequences of Brexit and their support for it.

We can continue to refer to Brexit (and not Lexit) because this is what was on the ballot paper; this is what the campaigns to leave proposed in the referendum; this is what all the debate about implementation has been about since, and most obviously this is what SWP members voted for when they put their pencil on the ballot paper.

Any claims that they were actually voting for something other than what we are getting could only be true if the world were as SWP members wished it to be, and of course it isn’t. Examples of this denial of the world as it actually is is illustrated by Callinicos’ denial that the Brexit vote was racist while still having to admit that the result ‘partially’ encouraged racism.

Since racism is for him the over-riding issue this in itself should be enough to make him reconsider, but to actually do so would require acknowledgement that his reading of the result is nonsense.  The article by Wayne Asher opposing Brexit in the same issue of the journal demonstrates this and contains enough material from the now widely publicised opinion poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft to show that the Leave vote was thoroughly reactionary.

The core Brexit vote was nationalistic, xenophobic and racist, which is why it encouraged racism afterwards.  It was centred on small capitalists, middle class reactionaries and demoralised workers, many of whom don’t normally vote or habitually vote Tory or UKIP.  Whatever their disaffection with the status quo, their response to this status quo was to blame other victims and ally with those whose policy is to make things worse.  Asher very effectively demolishes any argument that socialists should orient to these people, through what amounts to critical support for their reactionary project on spurious grounds that they are the basis of some anti-austerity protest.

The major argument of Callinicos however is that the issue of Brexit is not really that important – “which is the more important issue – the EU or racism?”  Aside from artificially dividing them into wholly separate issues when even he admits Brexit has encouraged racism, both should be considered together, understanding that Brexit is the key assault on the working class at the moment and raises very important issues for workers and particularly socialists.

He acknowledges that the referendum result has been interpreted as a rejection of free movement for European citizens but draws no conclusions that maybe the result was therefore not for the best.  If Brexit was something progressive why so many reactionary consequences?

To put a veil over all this we are told that despite “this deep political and constitutional crisis . . . the plight of British capitalism is unlikely fundamentally to change in or out of the EU.”  He feigns agnosticism over whether the country will be worse off while acknowledging that supply chains will be disrupted, and states that Brexit has “simply highlighted the limits of the reconstruction of British capitalism under Thatcher.”  A bit like cutting your right hand off to highlight the need to use your left just as well.

Callinicos refuses to acknowledge that the Brexit project will involve increased attacks on workers and that for the ultra-right this is one of its main objectives; he complacently claims that “the dynamics of global crisis will continue to work whatever happens on 29 March, and working people will still face attacks and need to fight back in or out of the EU.”  If or when such attacks come will he be saying that these are simply run-of-the-mill attacks on workers’ living standards – nothing special?  No particular cause?

By counterposing opposition to Brexit to opposition to racism he makes the claim that some Remainers are putting support for the EU ahead of fighting racism and fascism. Aside from his sleight of hand – that opposition to Brexit means support for the EU – it is he who has, to put it in his terms, put support for Brexit ahead of fighting racism and fascism.

He wishes to further divorce himself from responsibility for the project that he has supported by claiming that the rise of racism was happening anyway and that there is a tide of such reaction everywhere – so why blame Brexit?  He ignores, or simply denies, that Brexit has made such racism worse and that Brexit is the project in Britain in which this reactionary movement involving Trump etc. has coalesced.

The idea that you can support Brexit while opposing racism and the racists is absurd – imagine a Lexit contingent on a Brexit demonstration consisting of the English Defence League, Football Lads Alliance and UKIP!

But ‘never mind’ seems to be the message – “where you stand on the EU is a secondary question”.  “There is no reason why we can’t stand together against the main enemy – the bosses and the far right that the crisis of their system is strengthening.”

Yes, the millions of EU citizens working in Britain will see no issue with standing shoulder to shoulder with those who voted for Brexit and placed their right to live and work in Britain in danger.  They shall ignore that it was not just some “crisis of the system” that has strengthened the far right but also Brexit.

In the real world, it is not for these millions of workers, or for the millions of working class Remain voters, to explain to the SWP why they will not join their anti-racist campaigns but for the SWP to explain how they could be their effective allies in fighting racism while still supporting Brexit.

Callinicos claims that in supporting it he is demonstrating that it is not impossible to campaign against the EU on a socialist basis, and that “the arguments for leaving the European Union were substantial and debate-worthy.”

However despite this, and his claim that Brexit was mainly motivated by progressive impulses, he nowhere presents the relevance of Brexit to any progressive struggle that is going on.  Nor does not say how his and other left organisations supporting Brexit are helping to push it in a socialist direction.  In fact he is not able to point to any initiative that is putting a left Brexit on the agenda.  The only attempt at this is the ‘soft’ Brexit so far championed by Jeremy Corbyn, and this would still result in lower living standards and is in any case unworkable.

He admits that “the referendum wasn’t something that the left had campaigned for”, but given the argument that the EU is unreformable and is such an obstacle to progressive change you could be forgiven for seeking an explanation why not?  The campaign however, and its result, has demonstrated that Lexit has been an irrelevance, if not those who consider it in relation to the integrity of socialism and Marxism.

Callinicos admits that the referendum result has threatened to “stoke populists anxieties with unpredictable consequences’ . . . “amid political and perhaps economic turmoil’ but again sees no reason to reconsider his support for what got us here.

Like the Tory Brexiteers who proclaimed the benefits of Brexit but buggered off when it came to implementing it, the supporters of Lexit have turned round to claim that their Platonic love child isn’t really that important.

The final act of abandonment is put forward in the final sentence of the article:  “The radical and revolutionary left too should avoid getting trapped on one side or other of the debate within the ruling class and instead stand ready to promote and help shape “fundamental revolts”.

Having supported “one side”, as he puts it, by supporting Brexit, he now wants to claim that, actually, socialists should now not take sides. Of course if they followed his advice it would conveniently make implementation of Brexit that bit easier.

If only he and the other supporters of Lexit had decided to dump it earlier.  It would have saved themselves, even if it would not have made much difference to the result.

The importance of fighting Brexit

It was entirely appropriate that it was the votes of the DUP that saved Theresa May’s Government in the vote of no confidence. A reactionary Government was saved by the most reactionary and bigoted collection of MPs in parliament.  It is clear that whatever the DUP’s differences over May’s Brexit deal, it did not want to risk a Corbyn alternative.

This illustrates a question for the left in the Labour Party – does it too place Corbyn before taking a position on Brexit?  In the previous few hours before setting to write this post I came across two examples of this question being posed.

The first was a Facebook post which noted that in a Labour party branch, which I think was in London, the Corbyn supporters were moving to drop, or at least lessen, their opposition to Brexit since they considered it was weakening Corbyn’s position.

The second was in another Facebook exchange in which an old comrade of mine from Glasgow argued that “For me ending austerity by removing the Tories is the most important thing. I oppose Brexit within that context. I don’t support remain if austerity is to continue. I oppose Brexit as part of a working-class fightback so don’t have common cause with remain Tories or the labour right or the SNP.”

A third exchange posts an article which makes the claim that the argument over Lexit is irrelevant and that the only possible Brexit now is a reactionary one.  The first two Facebook exchanges shows that this is not the case.

The first – to support Corbyn by accepting his policy of a Labour “jobs Brexit” – is to support Corbyn by ditching ‘Corbynism”,  or rather to support Corbyn by ditching what is best in Corbynism; accepting the worst of his national reformist politics that will destroy the potential of his better policies.

Outside the EU large numbers of businesses will close, re-locate to mainland Europe and reduce their presence in Britain.  Those that remain will find the costs of trading with their biggest trading partner increase and their competitiveness reduce.  The value of the currency will fall, living standards will decline and the potential for the state to deliver redistributive policies and provide a satisfactory welfare state will be reduced.  The British economy will be set back and then probably stagnate or grow more slowly. At the very least it will decline relatively to its European neighbours.

All this of course will be a thousand times worse if there is no deal at all.

This leaves out the reactionary political effects of withdrawal, which is predicated on foreigners being responsible for British problems.  This is the common analysis of both left and right opposition to membership of the EU.

The left blames a supposedly unreformable neoliberal EU, with its laws against state aid etc. and the right blames immigration and Brussels for undermining British freedom. In effect they both stand up for the independence and sovereignty of the British State and its parliament against a supposed Brussels bureaucracy.  In the shape of Stalinism the language is often identical.  It gets ludicrous when there are claims that Lexit means self-determination for Britain, as if it were an oppressed nation, which of course is precisely the logic of the Lexit case.

It would therefore appear that the only way to save Corbynism is to save the man from himself, and since such a thing is very rarely possible it means facing the question of saving ourselves from his Brexit policy.

Confused political events are often accompanied by confused ideas and nothing illustrates this more than Corbyn standing by the principle that any Brexit deal must involve a permanent customs union with the EU.

Unfortunately this makes no sense.  The current trading arrangements that exist in the EU, and which Corbyn says must be maintained, owe a lot more to the existence of the Single Market than to the customs union. Corbyn says he wants Britain to be part of a Single Market but there is only one Single Market and leaving the EU, as Corbyn wants, will mean leaving it and leaving the free trading arrangements the benefits of which he wants to maintain.

Remaining in a customs union with the EU will not remove the need to negotiate trade agreements with the EU or with all the other countries with which Britain now trades through deals negotiated with the EU.

No doubt Corbyn would want these deals to continue to apply to Britain, just as he wants the benefits of the Single Market and just as he wants Britain to have a say in how the EU negotiates its trade arrangements; but this simply shows the have-cake-and-eat-it delusional character of the proposed Labour Brexit.

The attempt to strike such a deal would be an ignominious failure and be just as humiliating as the repeated embarrassing episodes of Theresa May’s European adventures.  My friend in Glasgow is therefore wrong when he says that “a Corbyn renegotiation could be useful if he highlighted anti-working class aspects of the present set up.”  If Corbyn highlighted them he would only put the spotlight on his own failure to remove them.

More importantly, it is wrong because reforming the EU will not come from the British State getting the rules changed, but from British workers – with the help of a Corbyn Government – uniting with other EU workers and their political parties in getting the rules changed for the whole EU, not pursuing exemptions for one member state.

To be fair to my Glasgow comrade, he knows that such an attempt to negotiate a Labour Brexit will fail, but he does not factor in the consequences of such a failure, which is to weaken any Corbyn administration that attempted it.  Here we will leave to one side what he might then decide to do when he did fail.

And this brings us to the second way in which a correct policy of utmost opposition to Brexit is the only correct socialist policy, for the comrade says that “for me ending austerity by removing the Tories is the most important thing. I oppose Brexit within that context. I don’t support remain if austerity is to continue. I oppose Brexit as part of a working-class fightback so don’t’ have common cause with remain Tories or the labour right or the SNP.”

Opposing Brexit as a principle does not entail automatic common cause with remain Tories or the labour right or the SNP.  As an opponent of Scottish independence the comrade will know that it was possible to take this position without joining with the Tories in the ’Better Together’ campaign. Similarly, it is possible also to support a second EU referendum without forming an alliance with the Peoples Vote movement.  In fact a Labour Party socialist campaign for such a vote and a campaign to Remain would transform this demand, making it a potential rallying point for millions of Labour supporters and voters opposed to Brexit and austerity.

Saying that “I don’t support remain if austerity is to continue” is pointless since if Remain does not win the current austerity can only increase.

In this respect it is vital to understand that Brexit can only damage the interests of the working class.

Consider this.  The hard-right of the Tory party want to leave the EU in order to impose a low wage, low tax, deregulated sweat shop off the coast of mainland Europe and the EU is afraid of this competition.  The Withdrawal Agreement repeatedly sets out the steps that the EU wants in place to prevent this from happening.  As socialists we want to prevent it as well, so we agree with the EU on preventing such a project – one very concrete illustration of why Remain is the correct policy for socialists.

The next question is whether such a deregulated Brexit policy is the only one possible.  Apart from the obvious fact that it is the only one on offer, and no collaboration between the Labour Party and Theresa May will change this, the answer lies in considering what could be the potential alternatives to such a Brexit.

The reason why Corbyn wants to leave, but wants nothing related to trade to change, is because all trade related changes that must inevitably result from Brexit will weaken the British economy and weaken any potential for a social-democratic Britain.  Outside the EU a Britain with a similar regulatory framework as the EU will find it harder to compete, not just because of trade barriers that would have to rise up, but because production restricted within the UK, within one country (as necessarily must be the case to a greater extent when outside the EU) will be less efficient than the continental scale production within the EU.

Outside the EU Britain will more and more become a competitor to the EU if it is not to become simply a satellite of it.  This will be the inevitable result of a reactively small Britain seeking trade deals with more powerful nations such as the US and China.  Such competition will not drive regulatory standards up; it must be obvious that it will be quite the opposite.

The view of the Stalinist supporters of Brexit that the British state can take over production to create a state-led economic development that will compete with the EU, US and China etc. simply ignores the failure of such a project in the Soviet Union.  How many times does it need to be proved that there can be no socialism in one country, and no social democracy in one country either? Only on an international basis would it be possible to lift corporate taxes, or taxes on the richest billionaires, to raise the cost of welfare services through extended provision or significantly raise the terms and conditions of workers.  Only on an international basis is it possible to have the most efficient production upon which a new economy can be developed.  The looming collapse of the car industry in Britain is negative proof of this.

In a further comment the comrade says that “In effect, Corbyn is using the threat of no deal to win a GE (General Election). Quite right too. That is what I am saying. If faced with the certainty of a no deal Brexit remain Tories will vote for a GE.”

The problem with this of course is that the Tory Remainers have been exposed as spineless.  More importantly, the threat of no deal comes from the Tory Government.  Both it and Labour pursuing a similar bluff could end up with both delivering a busted flush.

In less than a day we have seen May’s call for all-party talks to be a sham.  Her spokespeople have said that she will make no significant changes to her Withdrawal Agreement.

As we have noted above, accommodating Corbyn’s demand for membership of a customs union will not even achieve the objectives of its sponsor. Only Single Market membership will do that and neither the EU nor Tory Brexiteers will swallow this and the latter will not accept a customs union.  On its own a customs union will not do away with the need for an Irish back-stop so neither the DUP or Tory Brexit ultras will accept it.  Were Theresa May to attempt a deal with the Labour Party on this basis the Tories would most likely split.

Pivoting to the ultra-Brexiteers in her own Party by ditching the backstop would fall foul of the EU and expose May’s promise as an outrageous lie.  This sort of Brexit would also fail in Westminster.  It would not be enough for the Brexiteers as the transitional deal involving all-UK customs union membership would still remain and still be unacceptable to the ultras.  This too would have to go but this, even where the EU to agree, would raise problems of implementation similar to no deal.

Since the issues haven’t changed the favoured solution of Theresa May cannot be expected to change much either.  And neither can her strategy of threatening no deal in order to get her own agreement accepted.

But this is really a threat to blow one’s own brains out.  It hasn’t been credible, which is why May lost the vote on her deal so heavily, but now that more people are beginning to think that it may be, the Tory Chancellor has been telling business not to worry, it’s not going to happen.

Just as Theresa May previously threatened Brexiteers with no-Brexit and Remainers with no deal, now she is in effect threatening parliament with no deal while promising the capitalists that it won’t happen. She needs to do this because if the latter start to believe that no deal is a real possibility they will take direct action to stop it.  The pound will fall and major announcements of disinvestment will follow.

In such a situation, in which no successful move seems possible for any of the parties, the strains between them will cause something to break.

The EU has no reason to strike a new deal with any British party when none can guarantee to deliver.  There is no reason for them to offer any compromise to anyone.  A collection of MPs from all the parties would not have the capacity or authority (in any sense of that term) to offer an alternative deal to the EU.

Any significant shift by May from her existing deal in any direction would destabilise the Tory Party and lead to the defection of the ultras or even some Remainers. It is unlikely enough MPs will be scared enough to pass her deal.

In these circumstances no deal or no Brexit is most likely, although not inevitable.  Extending the timescale of Article 50 simply extends the problem and would in itself intensify the crisis.  In such circumstances it is necessary to oppose no deal and fight for no Brexit.  And that is why it matters that socialists prioritise the battle against it.

For socialists inside the Labour Party the fight starts within the Party so that the views of the vast majority of the membership are imposed on the leadership.  In these circumstances the membership cannot allow Corbyn to place himself in the way. They must reject any potential blackmail in the same way that they have rejected the blackmail threat of no deal.  In my younger days certain political questions were called ‘the acid test’. Brexit is that test for socialists today.

How bad is the Labour Party’s Brexit policy?

Britain’s main opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on the final day of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton on September 27, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

When I read in a blog that the Labour Party may support Brexit in any second referendum I could scarcely believe it. Could anyone be that misguided?  Such a course of action would be an act of political suicide – a betrayal of its previous Remain position and the vast majority of its members, voters and millions of other potential supporters who opposed Brexit and have looked to Labour as an alternative to the Tories.

When I looked at the interview, the gormless Labour spokesman obviously said more than he wanted, but the interpretation of what he had said wasn’t denied, and the unfortunate fact is that it is as consistent with the party’s actions since the referendum as any other.

Even to think of such an eventuality for a second brings to mind so many ways in which it makes no sense at all, so much so that it is difficult to credit that it would even be considered – unless you were an unreconstructed Blairite hoping to discredit Jeremy Corbyn, and looking for one popular policy to champion opposition to the leadership.

Were such a position to be taken, the majority of Labour voters would vote against its party while the majority of Labour activists would either not campaign or more likely campaign against it. The Labour Party would find itself scrambling for the votes of Leavers who were committed Tories, UKIPers or backward workers who don’t normally vote or have voted Labour but are still wedded to the most reactionary prejudices despite their tribal loyalty.

It would be the culmination of a Brexit policy of non-opposition to the most inept Tory Government for decades, from what on paper is the most radical leadership of the Party for decades, if not ever.

But how else can we describe the quick reversal of opposition to Brexit after the referendum, or the policy that looks very like the one May has been forced into, or the moaning that if only she had worked with Labour a consensus approach to implementing Brexit could have been achieved?  All capped off in the past few weeks by a section of the Tories themselves raising a vote of no confidence in their leader – before the official opposition – and doing more to weaken the leadership and the Government than any of the secret and bizarre parliamentary manoeuvres promised by Labour.

So what on earth could be used to justify such an approach?  Luckily (?) I have just read an apologia for Labour’s strategy that attempts to provide some justification for it.

The attempt is trapped within what Marxists have called parliamentary cretinism and consists of a number of diversions that take us away from the main issue, including the claim that before anything else can be done the absolute priority is defeating Theresa May’s deal and no deal.  While it correctly characterises Brexit as harmful to working class interests it gracelessly slides into arguing that a hard Brexit is the real problem.

It claims that continuing to oppose Brexit after the referendum would be “seriously damaging electorally’, straight after acknowledging the overwhelming support of Labour members and voters for Remain.  Like every apology for capitulation to Leave’s essentially reactionary constituency not a thought is given to the dangers involved in betraying Remain supporters – they are just congratulated on their discipline.

Instead we are informed we must wait until some Leavers change their minds, forced by the course of events and the failure of the Tories, before Labour can show leadership by openly opposing Brexit as well.  That Labour itself might help to change minds or have their predictions of inevitable Brexit failure confirmed, so gaining support and confidence from voters, is not proposed.

Not surprisingly, since the Labour policy of a good Brexit, like that of the Tories, also claims Brexit can be delivered with all the benefits, including frictionless trade, even though this claim has now been comprehensively debunked.  Nothing that has happened since the referendum can be seen to support any of the promises made for Brexit.  Yet rather than run with the tide of events, the Party has followed incoherently behind, having all its claims rubbished through the repeated humiliation of the Tories.

The argument in defence of the Labour leadership approach points to polls showing the unpopularity of Theresa May’s deal as validation of its strategy.  The sacrifice of principle involved in failing to oppose the attack on workers’ interests, which the article says is the great guiding principle of Corbyn’s approach to Brexit, is forgotten, while there is no recognition of the effect of Tory failure on voters’ confidence that Labour’s Brexit deal would be any more likely to succeed.

Despite reference to the recognition by Corbyn himself that Brexit is the most important issue facing the House of Commons in the 35 years he has been in it, the argument is put that the most important issue is the formation of a Corbyn led Government itself, with “a Jeremy Corbyn led government after a Brexit . . . better for the working class than no Brexit but with a non-Corbyn led Labour Party.”

This is presented as the issue “in the clearest terms” when in fact the alternatives are put in order to cloud the essential choice facing the Party.  It is an argument that says that what makes a Corbyn Government important is not what it does but simply that it exists.

But Brexit will undermine the grounds for a Corbyn Government through weakening the economy and reducing the scope for reversing austerity.  The article recognises the harmful effects of Brexit but this is more or less ignored when it comes to supporting the policy of a ‘good’ Labour Brexit.

These criticisms are even before we take into account more fundamental issues – such as why Corbyn thinks the British state is so uniquely capable of progressive reform that it must separate from the rest of the EU, while the other states that form the rest of it are condemned to languish under austerity. What does this say for any professed belief in workers’ unity.  Or are British workers also uniquely incapable of uniting with those in other countries to advance common interests?

Apart from capitulation to the Leave position following the referendum (are the rest of us supposed to do this too?), the most obvious problem with Labour’s position is its idea that any Brexit deal could be good for British workers.  If this was true why did it not support Brexit in the first place?  If not, why support it now?

The problem of course is the same as that facing Theresa May’s proposed deal – that hoping to retain all the benefits of EU membership while incurring no costs is simply unobtainable, and robs anyone saying it of credibility.  The idea peddled by nostalgic-for-the-Empire Leavers that the EU would bow down to the demands of Great Britain have been quashed and it doesn’t really matter who asks. In fact, if the EU is governed solely be neoliberal bureaucrats there is more reason assume they would be kinder to Theresa May than to Jeremy Corbyn.

The article states that:

“It is not crucial at all whether Britain is inside or outside the political structures of the EU – that is whether Britain is formally a member of the EU. What is important is that the British economy has the best access to the EU market (as without that it cannot find a large enough market for efficient production), that it has the best access to imported inputs for its own industries (as in a modern economy supply chains are international in scope) etc. Without these, in present conditions, whole industries, such as cars, would be devastated, with huge loss of jobs, while the plunge in the exchange rate of the pound that would follow would be highly inflationary and reduce real wages. All these economic effects would be seriously damaging to working class living standards. Therefore, what is important is access to the economic structures of the EU – the Customs Union, the Single Market etc. That is why Labour’s six tests for any deal with the EU all focus on the economy.”

We are invited to accept that political membership of the EU doesn’t matter. Yet we are also told to accept that the Labour deal will have the “exact same benefits” as membership; that it will pass its six tests, which include defending rights and protections and preventing a race to the bottom, while protecting national security and ensuring “fair management of migration”.

The Party policy therefore has its own variety of have cake and eat it, so that it wants to exit the political arrangements but still have “a British say in future trade deals’ (according to Jeremy Corbyn).  It seems innocent of any idea that the EU will take further economic and political steps that will seek to strengthen its project and affect Britain, which will have no say in the shape of this development.  Because this “is not crucial at all”.

John McDonnell has said of the EU that ‘They’ve seen this deal isn’t going to work, so therefore other opportunities will have to be explored. And they want the best optimum solution that will protect the European economy overall, just as we wish to protect the UK economy.”

But, as has been explained again and again, the EU is prepared to suffer some economic losses due to Brexit because it would potentially face much greater losses if other nationalist parties sought similar loss-free exits from the Union.  Of course the losses suffered by Britain will be much greater, that is why the EU can accept a no deal in a way that Britain cannot, but then this is true, and an inevitable consequence, of Brexit in any shape or form.  Clever parliamentary games by the Labour Party can change nothing fundamental about this.

The article excuses its sacrifice of principle and its acknowledgement of the harmful effects of Brexit by stating that:

“There are some issues on which a position must be taken regardless of the state of public opinion – war, the death penalty, sexism, racism. But Brexit is not one of these issues – Labour is rightly taking into account not only the objective impact of Brexit but public opinion and cannot vote, and no one proposes, to implement Remain if it is clear public opinion supports Leave.”

But no one has ever said, just as this author does, that they are sacrificing all their principles, just the ones – like opposing Brexit – that aren’t really supposed to be principles at all.  “Seriously damaging to working class living standards” is not apparently a principle that the new leadership of the Labour Party should fight for “regardless of public opinion”.  And the thought that public opinion could be won to what is becoming more and more obvious is apparently not worth thinking about either.

This stumbling and incoherent policy on Brexit does not bode well for those investing hope in the new Labour leadership, but it is good that the rank and file are now pushing for a stronger anti-Brexit policy.  They should continue with this and consider why it has been necessary. Why has the leadership itself not led on this?  What is it about the leadership’s perspective on how a society of equals could be created that it excludes committing to a European resistance to austerity and an international unity of workers?

Labour Party members should recognise this need to push and continue to push, until it has a leadership that not only follows the views of the membership, but also leads members in the struggle.

It is sincerely to be hoped that the views expressed on the Andrew Marr show do not become policy. If they do, the Labour Party will be cutting its own throat.