Belfast meeting discusses Marxism and Brexit

Sixty or so people attended a meeting on Friday night organised by academics and the Slugger O’Toole web site entitled ‘Brexit, Borders and Beyond: Marxism as a guide in turbulent times.’  It was interesting in a couple of respects worth recording.

The first speaker gave a broad description of the Marxist view of the state – “the executive of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.”  It was an instrument of class oppression.  Unfortunately, at the end the meeting in replying to points from the floor, and in attempting to defend the idea of Brexit, she argued that it would allow the working class more say than continued membership of the EU.

The second speaker was an advocate of Green politics and argued that the ecology of the planet could be saved, but could be done in one of two ways.  Through oppression and exploitation or through a progressive and democratic road.  He argued strongly that important to the second was an emphasis on industrial democracy as well as political democracy.  He was also rather dismissive of the traditional Marxist view of insurrectionary revolution and the necessity of social change coming through violence.

A comrade beside me made a comment to the effect that revolutionary change can only come through violence but this ignores the point made by the speaker that the growth of industrial democracy is important, and this does not necessitate violence.  This is something I have argued in this blog in relation to the importance of the creation of workers’ cooperatives.  While political revolution involving the State often requires violence it also often entails no fundamental social change, which requires a change in ownership of the productive forces.

The Marxist idea of revolution is too often conceived in terms of destroying the capitalist state, leading to a one-sided focus on what is bad for capitalism, while ignoring the much more important concept of revolution, which is a revolution in the consciousness of the working class.  This shifts the focus to what is necessary for the working class and doesn’t assume that what is bad for capitalism must be good for workers.  It also brings to light the importance of the growth of workers’ cooperatives in changing the social life of the working class and thereby its political consciousness.  It addresses the otherwise impossible to answer question how revolutionary politics can be effective in times of peace.

The meeting was in part ill-conceived, since I can’t have been alone in thinking the meeting was about the left case for Brexit.  The third speaker was Costas Lapavitsas, a Greek academic working in London and ex-member of the Greek parliament.  He recently wrote a book entitled ‘The Left Case Against the EU’, which more or less did a reasonable job of achieving the aims of the title but didn’t make a strong case for Brexit.  In speaking at the meeting he argued more forcefully for it.

He argued that the EU was irretrievably neoliberal and could not be reformed since this neoliberalism was enshrined in basic Treaty law, although he did acknowledge, as he did in his book, that the EU was once dominated by a Keynesian approach to economic governance.  Since changes could only be made by unanimity it was impossible to foresee such unanimity and therefore impossible to see how there could be any reform.  He declared that no advocate of ‘remain and reform’ had been able to explain how they could carry it out.  His speech was well received and there was only one intervention from the floor in opposition to Brexit.

This intervention argued that the proof of the pudding was in the eating and that so far Brexit was a disaster. Lapavitsas did reply at the end that Brexit had yet to happen but didn’t go on to explain how the pudding was going to improve on what we had already seen.

The speaker from the floor argued that Costas had come to the wrong country if he wanted to argue that the British State was reformable in a way that other capitalist states were not (otherwise of course we could reform the German and French States and therefore why not the EU?).  It was pointed out that at another recent meeting on trade unions and Brexit one speaker had argued that the EU had held workers back, but that the idea that the EU was the obstacle to workers unity and mobilisation in Ireland was hard to take seriously.

It was the British State that had divided Irish workers and had been responsible for such things as internment, torture, Bloody Sunday etc.  But this was the State that was almost uniquely reformable?  A later speaker from the Socialist Party pointed out that the EU had approved or failed to criticise the actions of the British State in Ireland but this didn’t really answer the point – it hadn’t been claimed that we would or should rely on the EU or that it was in some way expected to have prevented British oppression.

The speaker also argued that the EU did not prevent nationalisation as seemed to be the argument of left supporters of Brexit, and pointed out that, in so far as critical industries were concerned (as argued by Lapavitsas), the energy industry in Ireland was dominated by state-owned companies; the water and sewerage industry was state owned; the banking industry had more or less been nationalised at one point, and the transport industry had a large state-owned presence.

Lapavitsas responded that what was important was not that state industry was allowed to compete with private capitalist concerns but that it was prevented from monopolising an industry. While this is not even strictly true – state ownership enjoys a more or less monopoly position in electricity transmission and distribution, water and sewerage, and railways for example – it avoids the much more central question that ownership by the capitalist state is NOT socialism. This is so fundamental an issue that failure to recognise it shows the complete degeneration and disorientation of the self-styled Marxist left. But we will look at this further in a minute.

This intervention from the floor finished by recalling a debate in which a left supporter of Brexit had mocked the idea of defending the EU’s freedom of movement by stating it showed concern only with the freedom of white Europeans.  It was noted that in that debate, and at the meeting, the participants were mainly white Europeans, and white Europeans had rights too; as did non-white Europeans who had been forgotten about by dismissing free movement in the EU.  It was observed that ‘the free movement of people’ had for some incomprehensible reason become a dirty phrase for some on the left.  And as someone else had remarked – left opponents of freedom of movement in the EU want to extend this freedom beyond Europe by getting rid of it within Europe first.

In relation to this Lapavitsas claimed that open borders was not a socialist position and that the alternative was Marx’s declaration in ‘The Communist Manifesto’ that workers of all countries should unite.  What he seemed to mean was that workers in each country should stay in their country with some sort of fraternity between them, but that the nation state would persist. He claimed that Brexit was not nationalist, but if restricting workers freedoms to within nation states looks like a form of nationalism it is because it is a form of nationalism.  And this nationalism informs Lapavitsas’s and Brexit supporters’ whole conception of socialism.

This involves socialism being ownership by the capitalist state, and since the capitalist state is still primarily a national one it means defending the sovereignty of that nation state. Defence of national sovereignty was another assertion Lapavitsas was keen to make.  But the supreme power, supremacy and authority – sovereignty – of the capitalist nation state is NOT socialism but reactionary nationalism that even modern capitalism is leaving behind.  In this sense Lapavitsas and supporters of Brexit like him are not only wrong about the way forward but are reactionary because they want to take us backwards.  Far from separating the working classes by nationality, as he wishes to do, it is the Marxist view that workers should identify themselves as a class irrespective of nationality.  This is obviously at odds with a political view that the nation state will define their liberation and emancipation.

The true relationship between Marxism, Brexit and Borders is the recognition that the development of capitalism brings socialism closer, that the revolutionising of the means of production ,and society generally, creates the preconditions for socialism, and that the increasingly international character of capitalism creates an increasingly international working class.

Lapavitsas referred to Marx’s remark that “the proletariat of each country must, of course, first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie”, but this was written when a world market had begun and world production had not, when capitalism and the capitalist class and its state were purely national.  The working class could not settle matters with the capitalist class of all countries ‘first’.  But the EU is precisely confirmation that capitalism and the capitalist class are now internationally organised.  The failure of the workers movement to keep up has led some of its political representatives to seek to address this failure by seeking to drag capitalism back to the primitive state the workers movement is still in.

The international organisation if capitalism exists and is therefore what the proletariat faces “first”, and must face as an international class by building up its international organisation and programme.  This is precisely the perspective of reform and remain, although Marxists will of course have their own view of what this entails.

More than this, the purpose is not so much to remain in the EU and seek its reform, but to accept the breaking down of national restrictions as the most appropriate framework for the reformation of the European working class more and more into a single class. For Marxists it is the sovereignty and independence of the working class which is the objective of socialist politics not only in relation to the nation state but in relation to the proto-international EU state, and not the reform of either.

As Marx stated before the line quoted above – “though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle.”  The existence of the international economic and political organisation of capitalism through the EU shows that increasingly the struggle of the proletariat must not only be international in substance but also international in form.

As Lenin put it in ‘The Socialist Revolution and the Right of Nations to Self-Determination’– “The aim of socialism is not only to abolish the present division of mankind into small states and all national isolation; not only to bring the nations closer to each other, but also to merge them.”

In seeking to deny this approach the left supporters of Brexit unknowingly deny not only the reality of capitalism but also the possibility of socialism.  No wonder their conception of the latter involves ownership by the capitalist state and not by the working class.

The Socialist Party and Brexit 2 – part of the programme?

Following economic recession the second possible consequence of Brexit predicted by the Socialist Party is increased division and instability in the North.

Increased division on the island is of course inevitable, since that is the purpose of Brexit – to exit the arrangements that entail the existing unity of the European Union that includes the whole island.  On exit the UK will become a ‘third country’ and the only question is the degree of separation.

Given that left supporters of Brexit see the rules of the Single Market and Customs Union as so harmful to the interests of the working class it must be expected that the sort of Brexit they seek involves a high degree of separation and therefore a meaningful and significant border.

It  doesn’t matter that left supporters of Brexit blame the EU for this – the Socialist Party says that “after a hard Brexit the logic of the workings of the EU is that a hard border would have to be put in place” – the result is the same.  The Party states that “a Labour government should seek to re-open negotiations and demand an entirely different relationship with the EU, based on the interests of working-class people, not the 1%.”

One has to ask however – why would the EU, if it is the irreformable neoliberal construction that is claimed, strike an agreement in the interests of the working class, whatever that might be?  If it were possible there would seem to be little reason to leave in the first place.   Why not use membership to effect such changes for the whole EU instead?

But this is not the perspective of the Socialist Party, which is wedded to a very particular scenario of the way forward, which is “the necessity of a left government having to carry through a rupture with capitalism and adopting a socialist programme.” This “rupture” with capitalism is to be achieved through the “democratic public ownership of the key sectors of the economy”; i.e. through nationalisation supported by the mass activity of the working class.  This must be carried out by each state separately as nationalisation is by definition the action of an individual state.

This essentially nationalist approach to socialism lies behind the Party’s support for Brexit.  At the immediate level this perspective takes shape in the following expected results:

“Socialists in Ireland would welcome the return of a Labour government in Britain. If such a government were to adopt a position of socialist opposition to the EU this would transform the situation. Corbyn should speak over the heads of the Commission, reaching out to working class people across Europe in rejecting neo-liberal rules, calling for co-ordinated action for Green Energy on a Europe wide basis, and popularising a socialist vision of Europe. A left Labour government would be able to call on workers throughout the continent to fight the ‘race to the bottom’ in their own countries and mobilise against attempts by their own governments or the EU to pursue punitive measures against other workers whether in Britain or elsewhere.”

Why a left movement in Britain would be more powerful in reaching out to the rest of Europe’s workers by leaving the EU, instead of remaining and seeking unity of the workers’ movement across Europe, is unexplained.  But this is precisely what supporters of Brexit would need to demonstrate – why an exit was necessary and why it would be more successful in achieving wider European unity. How would leaving assist “co-ordinated action for Green Energy on a Europe wide basis” for example?

Unity of Europe’s workers, through its trade unions, works councils, political parties and workers’ cooperatives is possible but it is made easier by being within a common EU framework, in which Europe’s capitalist classes are seeking their own form of unity.  Only from a perspective in which the rupture with capitalism must first come from national governments in each individual capitalist state is it possible to simply assume without argument that international workers’ unity must follow this and not be immanent from the start.

So at an abstract level the Socialist Party maintains its international socialist credentials by considering such unity only as an end result after almost all the problems have previously been solved:

“Socialists are in favour of a genuinely united Europe. This will only be possible when the socialist transformation of society allows the coming together of nations of Europe in a democratic, European-wide confederation.”

The Party considers its approach to be consistent with the approach of the transitional programme as codified by Leon Trotsky.  This can be stated rather briefly as a programme fought for by a revolutionary party that starts from today’s objective conditions and from the existing level of consciousness of the working class.  It demonstrates through the demands raised in today’s struggles the necessity to take ever more radical measures that culminate in the working class seeing the need for, and being organised to achieve, socialist revolution.

This is the transition that the programme is meant to achieve, as opposed to demands that simply reform aspects of capitalism but do not fundamentally change it, and the maximum programme which demands this fundamental change through demands for socialism and socialist revolution.

There are lots of issues bundled within such a view, and lots of Trotskyists who would hotly dispute that the Socialist Party’s version is consistent with Trotsky’s programme, but that is not what I want to discuss here.  Rather it is to question how support for Brexit can possibly be seen as being part of any transitional approach.  I have written many posts on why I think socialists should oppose Brexit so the purpose here is a much narrower one and is confined to the role that supporting Brexit plays in the Socialist Party’s politics.

The first problem in the Party’s support for Brexit is that it then either abstains or is confused on just what this policy entails.  So it says that:

“We say that whatever way the different capitalist vested interests resolve their business dispute, it must be done without any physical or repressive borders.”

So having voted for a Brexit, to be determined by a reactionary Tory Government and EU bureaucracy, the Party leaves it for these capitalist interests to decide what it means, to ‘resolve’ the issues (within certain limits).  How does this engage the working class in seeking to impose its own solutions?

The view that a Corbyn led Government could simply re-negotiate all the bad neo-liberal rules away and leave the same market access is even more delusional than the Boris Johnson idea that Great Britain can get Johnny foreigner to allow it to have cake and eat it.  Does the Socialist Party really think Jeremy Corbyn could negotiate away the bad bits of the Single Market and customs union for the whole EU, or even just for the UK? And if it was just for the UK, would this not mean that there wasn’t really a Single Market? And if only for the UK, what then for the rest of Europe’s workers, including the Irish?

Would those Irish workers not within the UK have to await its own left government, one that is not on the horizon, before it too would attempt to copy any Corbyn success? Or would it not make a lot more sense for a left Labour government in the UK to fight within the EU alongside allies across the continent, including in the Irish State?

Since we don’t have a left Labour Government in Britain or the short-term prospect of one in Ireland, what is the policy that the workers movement should fight for right now to make Brexit a ‘good’ Brexit, or does silence on this indicate that one does not exist?

So, the first problem is that the Socialist Party has advocated a policy of Brexit for which it has no concrete idea how to give any progressive content.

In an instinctive reaction against their own sterility members of the Party have made a virtue out of their impotence and argued that no positive policies should be put forward in this situation, but instead only negative demands:

“Deliberately not putting forward positive demands, or advocating a particular arrangement post-Brexit, has been correct, and broadly remains correct however. There are issues on which it is not for the worker’s movement to come forward with solutions which address the concerns of the ruling class, and in the main this is one such.”

But of course, a content will be given to Brexit and it will be a wholly reactionary one, and it is really not good enough to vote for a reactionary policy, saying it is progressive and a step forward, and then be unable to build positive demands out of it and arising from it.

The final illustration that the policy of Brexit has no place in any socialist programme is that the Socialist Party is totally silent on the most obvious of questions.  If Brexit is the right policy for the British working class, indeed for all the workers of the EU, why does the Party not follow up on the ‘success’ in Britain and call for the Irish State to leave the EU as well?

It would appear no one in the Party wants to do this, but it is not because they all believe it is wrong. Instead they have saddled themselves with a policy that they dare not proclaim. Every argument defending Brexit and every claim that it is necessary is but another demonstration of the dishonesty of the Party to workers that it proclaims require its leadership – because it is not actually asking the workers to follow it.  It is not leading but hiding.

Once again, the political impotence of the policy is so clear that it cannot be replicated: the nationalist nature of it imposes its own logic regardless of the left illusions of its supporters.  There is no transitional content whatsoever.

Brexit has thus exposed fundamental flaws in the state-socialist programme of the Party, a programme which identifies socialism with state ownership and the route to working class power with governmental office.  Since the state is a nation state this almost inevitably involves conceiving of socialism, and the road to it, in national terms.  And so the Party gets it totally wrong when it comes to key international questions such as the European Union and Brexit.

In the final post I will look at the national question and how the Party’s policy on Brexit fails the challenge of uniting Ireland’s workers.

 

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 – 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.

Brexit humiliated . . . again

Supporters of Brexit claimed it would ‘bring back control’ and allow Britain to agree more favourable trade deals with the rest of the world.  It was also argued by some that a trade deal with the EU would be the easiest to agree and that the EU would rush to conclude it, such was the importance of Britain to the rest of Europe.

When the EU took control of the negotiations and stated that it wasn’t even going to discuss a trade deal until other matters were sorted first the illusions of the Brexiteers were exposed as fantasy.

So instead they threatened the EU with a no deal scenario – “no deal is better than a bad deal” they said, in a reformulation of the claim that the EU needs Britain more than Britain needs the EU.

Now we have Theresa May arguing that the draft withdrawal agreement must be supported because no deal would be so awful that it cannot possibly be allowed, and hers is the only alternative. Gone are the claims that a trade deal with the EU will be easy to agree, and so ridiculous is the notion that the EU will rush to agree one that no one even thinks to ridicule it.

Boris Johnson claimed that the EU could “go whistle” for their divorce money and Britain would “have cake and eat it”,but now the draft withdrawal deal requires that Britain pay its money, and more besides for the period of the withdrawal, although it does involve “have cake and eat it.”  It’s just that it is the EU that will have cake and eat it – the UK will have to accept its rules, and in various areas not regress from them; will have to continue to pay into the EU; will have to accept new rules agreed during the period of the deal, and will have a veto over any attempt by Britain to remove the Irish backstop that will remain until a new deal with the EU is agreed, sometime in the future.  And of course, any new deal will reflect the imbalance of power between the UK and EU which produced the draft deal.

So far is the withdrawal deal removed from ‘taking back control’ that this is its defining feature – that Britain will submit to rules and relinquishes any influence over them.  Britain will leave the EU through an interim deal that has been agreed because alternative deals have stupidly been rejected by the Tory Government as beneath it.

But the can has only been kicked down the road, so that fatal choices have only been postponed, and when they come they will also be framed by the same imbalance of power that has given birth to the withdrawal deal. In the longer term this will simply be unacceptable to British capitalism.

So the deal does not so much postpone a final Brexit deal as anticipate it, because any sort of final trade deal following Brexit will see Britain subject to the same forces that have resulted in this humiliation. Any fanciful notion that the USA or China will be more accommodating than the EU in a future trading arrangement belongs in the same category as ‘have cake and eat it.”  The decline of British imperialism, and its relative weakness, is laid bare and its competitors are not going to ignore it or let it pass unexploited.

No wonder it is on the question of control that those opposed to the deal have seized.  This weakness, which even ultra Brexiteers have cottoned on to in their own infantile way, is the only possible reason they are now calling for no deal as the alternative – because they can’t get a better one.

It’s why two leading Brexiteers, despite supposedly being in charge of the negotiations, have condemned their outcome.  Why all Brexit ministers have not resigned and why the detested Theresa May is still leader of the Tory Party and Prime Minister.  No one wants her job, or at least not now and not yet.

But what applies to the Tories applies equally to the Labour Party and its alternative, which gets more obscure by the day.  Any putative Corbyn deal is subject to the same imbalance of forces, and claims that it can deliver a ‘jobs Brexit’ become ever less credible as a result of Tory failure.

That this is the case is in itself a condemnation of the failure to oppose Brexit and explain that there cannot be a good Brexit, and that the best option was to continue to argue for Remain.  Had this been done the Labour Party could now claim some credit.

Instead it relies on the Tories cutting their own throat, and the continuing hopes among its members and supporters that at some point the Party will oppose leaving.  And while it has said it will vote against May’s deal, its claims that it can negotiate a better one appear wafer-thin and its rationale for opposing May’s deal just as slim.  It follows the ultra Brexiteers in its current defence of a possible good Brexit by condemning May’s draft deal because of its commitment to having to obey rules while having no say over them.

It’s rather like the incredible story in ‘The Independent’ in which a Tory Brexit MP slams the deal because Britain will have no influence in Europe and will have no MEPs or Commissioner!

And what of the supporters of Lexit, who must oppose the May deal on precisely the same grounds? While Tory supporters of leaving the EU thought Britain could gain strength from Brexit the supporters of Lexit thought it would weaken the British State, as it will, ignoring the effect this would have in weakening that state’s potential to carry out the anti-austerity and state-led development policies they support.

Unfortunately, both share the same illusion that national solutions are better than international ones and on this both are wrong.  The supporters of Lexit think a progressive British State can end austerity and be the motor of progressive economic development on a national basis, while Tory Brexiteers foresee a deregulated, free market tax haven on the shores of Europe.  Both ignore the fact that the rest of Europe doesn’t disappear just because Britain leaves the EU and that the EU will not allow a threat to it to develop in either left or right forms.

Both capitalism and certainly socialism seeks and requires solutions at the international level, and while it may be possible to envisage a large offshore tax haven it is impossible to envisage a progressive island of socialism off Europe’s coast.

If the Lexiteers even got that far, which they couldn’t, they would suddenly find that they needed the rest of Europe’s working class to help them. And if they think that their example of splitting will inspire these workers then there won’t be a European working class to appeal to, just a collection of 27 other fragments of that class, all supporting their national roads to socialism, or nationalist xenophobic competition more likely, if they really did follow the British example.

It is no accident that today Theresa May has gone back to the most reactionary justification for Brexit in order to defend her deal – the idea that it will allow increased immigration controls that will apparently allow Britain’s young people to get jobs and training. As if it wasn’t austerity and Tory education policies that were the problem but foreign workers.

She has claimed that workers from the EU will not be able to “jump the queue”, except of course when the UK eventually, if ever, agrees a free trade deal with the EU, in which case the EU will want particular rights for its citizens.  The claims for Brexit never cease and never appear.

With this deal they have been postponed.  Promises made but not delivered, which will encourage true Brexit believers to rant ever more aggressively and their leaders to seek ever more scapegoats for their failure to deliver.

If the Tories, with the important assistance of the EU, were to succeed in pushing this deal through, the right-wing dynamic of Brexit would not be stopped or tempered but would continue to unfold. Hopes that a general election will lead to a Corbyn Government would place the burden of Brexit delivery on it, and without a policy of opposing Brexit such a government would have no mandate to reverse it.  Whoever in the Labour party thinks this is smart politics needs put out to pasture.

The Labour party should point to the current mess as the inevitable result of Brexit which is so bad the alternative offered by the Tories is only worse.  Only a fight to Remain can address the political turmoil by offering a way out.