One of the very few things that has made me smile in the whole Brexit debacle has been the leader writers and columnists of the financial press, including the ‘Financial Times’ and ‘The Economist’. Brexit is almost universally regarded by these people as a disaster and some have blamed David Cameron for being a reckless gambler and bringing them to their current predicament.
Yet it is these same commentators, who represent some of the most class conscious spokespeople for capitalism, who supported the Tories in the last election and who, when they did so, supported the only people who could make this whole disaster for them possible. It is normal for these self-regarding experts, who prize their analytical capacity and steely objectivity, to damn the Left in any of its forms for being ideologically driven but in this case it is abundantly clear that they have been blinded by the own ideology. If Cameron gambled, they gambled on the gambler – one derivative they shouldn’t have bought.
These commentators and the markets they service are now being dragged kicking and screaming to a ‘hard’ Brexit while their Tory favourites declare, in complete stupidity, that there is no such thing as a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. Not only are the Tories not pushing for as open a trade relationship as possible and selling the importance of this to their electorate, while making vaguer and vaguer promises on limiting immigration; they are doing the opposite – signalling the primary importance of halting free movement of people and acceptance of worse trade terms from the EU as a result. The drastic restrictions on immigration floated by some Tories are also not in the interests of big capitalists, who want as wide a labour market as possible from which to hire and fire.
One of Cameron’s allies in Cabinet is supposed to have said of the referendum that “it will be all about jobs and the economy and it won’t even be close.” Now it’s all about immigration. Except of course that beneath the political fog lies a reality that will bite regardless – and it will still include jobs and the economy.
Not that this reality is understood by everyone on the left. In a monumental tribute to how ideology can also blind some ‘Marxists’ to reality we can turn to the most recent considerations on Brexit from the Socialist Workers Party.
This organisation supported Brexit and thought that, if it was all for the best possible reasons, changing one letter and calling it Lexit would make a difference.
It defends, if that is actually the right word, its support for Brexit by saying this was for two reasons – “first, and as a matter of principle, we oppose the EU as an engine for imposing neoliberalism. . .” – although it doesn’t then go on to explain just how this ‘principle’ did any good. Or how one of the most neoliberal states in the EU – Great Britain – was an alternative.
The second reason is that “Brexit would cause a major crisis for British and, to a lesser degree, world capitalism. This latter judgement has been vindicated.” So it would appear that the SWP is happy it called Brexit right.
Regular readers of the blog will note that this view of crisis is one that I have criticised over a number of posts, starting with this one. It is based on a view that since capitalism will be weakened and exposed by crises, and crises provides the opportunity to overthrow capitalism, we should be all in favour of such crises because we can demonstrate that we are right to condemn capitalism and right that it must be overthrown. Such a view starts from what is bad for the system, not what is good for the working class; from what you are against and not from what you are for; does not understand that we have had plenty of capitalist crises and will have plenty more and none of them have so far brought about socialist revolution; that for crises to be the catalyst for socialism there must be some prior conditions in existence, including the level of the working class’s social power and class consciousness. Failing all this, the desire for capitalist crisis is just light-minded political vandalism, a million miles from working class people who do not want to be the victims of such crises.
But the SWP can’t even get this story right. They claim that Brexit will cause a major crisis for the British and also, to a lesser extent, for world capitalism but believe that this may or may not have an impact on economic growth; in other words on the accumulation of capital and everything that goes with it – profits, wages, jobs and standard of living etc. So we are expected to believe that Brexit will cause a major crisis but it may not have any economic impacts!
It’s as if they don’t want to admit to the consequences of their actions, in so far as they bear a tiny responsibility for Brexit, but don’t want to appear as delusional as the Tory xenophobes who claim there will be no bad economic results. For the SWP, their light-mindedness sticks out a mile when they simply state that “the truth is that one can argue the toss about this.” Well maybe they should have argued the toss before Brexit and told their supports just what the economic consequences of Brexit might be.
Denying reality now involves ignoring falls in the value of sterling, which increases the cost of living for workers. The external current account deficit is running at 6 per cent, the largest since the second world war, illustrating the impact of higher import costs on workers and also the funding needs to cover it that might drive up interest rates. On top of this we can consider the effects on jobs of disruption to trade and investment arising from reduced access to exports, dearer imported inputs and reduced foreign investment.
Once again it’s important to state that there is no point ignoring the realities of capitalism and the harmful effects on workers of its difficulties if you don’t have an alternative to defend workers’ interests when these difficulties occur. Socialists do not declare ‘bring it on’ to capitalist crises, not least because capitalism has never lost the knack of ‘bringing it on’ all by itself.
If the working class had strong, militant union organisation ready to challenge companies making pay cuts or ready to sponsor the take-over of companies declaring redundancies then it would be in a better position to defend itself. If the working class had developed its own cooperative, worker-owned sector and was in a position to extend its scale when capitalism suffered a setback then a major crisis might herald radical change. But it isn’t and it faces economic dislocation with a capitalist state headed by a governing party hell-bent on increasing neoliberal policies.
to be continued