The Irish election, a victory for the left?

Lots of superlatives have been employed to describe the results of the Irish general election, almost all reflecting the dramatic growth of the vote for Sinn Fein, which is now the largest party in terms of popular support with 24.5%.  In 2016 it had only 14 % of the vote.

This is a bit of a surprise, not least to Sinn Fein, which was unable to capitalise fully on the votes received due to not having stood enough candidates.  The party had suffered badly in the previous Presidential, local and European elections and moderated its expectations accordingly.  Two stories indicate the abrupt turnaround.  One successful candidate topped the poll in Clare with 8,987 first preference votes after having failed to become a local councillor last May when she only got 385 votes.  Another successful candidate went off on holiday during the election and only campaigned for two weeks.

Two other changes were also notable.  The first was the comprehensive rejection of the ruling Fine Gael party, which had its worst result in 60 years, and the second was the failure of the main opposition party Fianna Fail, which had its worst result since 2011, when it paid the price for its role in the crash of the Celtic Tiger.  In 2007 these two parties totalled 68% of the vote, in this election only 43%.  Lastly, also worth noting in relation to other countries, was the failure of the far right, anti-immigration candidates.

This last phenomenon reflects both well and badly on the Irish electorate.  The Irish have no post-imperial hangover like the British and their history, in so far as they know it, is one of anti-colonial resistance.  The Irish are also much more aware of their true place in the world, as a home for mainly US multinationals, for whom no prostration to their needs is too much.  So, for example, the state’s inward investment agency gave a made-up award to the senior executive in Apple for the company having hung around Ireland for 40 years making money.  It should be recalled that according to the EU, Apple owes the Irish State €13.5 billion which Apple is contesting and so is the Irish State.

In any case the existing constraints on immigration and the treatment of immigrants in direct provision centres demonstrates the harshness of existing government policy.  The 80% majority in the racist referendum in 2004 is a stain on the country yet to be removed, although the views of younger people might now be very different.

So yes, the trouncing of far-right candidates is very much to be welcomed, just as long as we appreciate the context and its limits, which is what we should do when considering the overall results.

The election result is described as reflecting a ‘mood’ for change, and the sudden rise of Sinn Fein might reflect the fact that moods come and go and are never permanent. It might reflect not only the speed of change but also the indefinite character of the message being sent, just as we suffer moods but rarely experience them as well-thought-out drivers of definite objectives.

The ‘mood for change’ has however indicated some of the change demanded, primarily to housing availability and affordability and to access to health care, as well as a solution to the general malaise around state services, or sometimes their non-existence.  But how this change will be achieved is unclear, and how Sinn Fein would achieve it is also not clear.

Clear enough however is the rejection of the main bourgeois parties and a hope that the state can play a bigger role in sorting out the shortcomings of existing economic growth.  This growth has both caused the demand for change by making failures of the economic model and the government approach obvious, and made change apparently possible through the extra resources it has provided.

The question for socialists is how wide and how deep is the demand for change, reflected in the votes for Sinn Fein and rejection of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael? An exit poll recorded that 48% felt it was ‘best to have a change of government’, while nearly one third believed that ‘the country needs a radical change in direction’.  Fifty-one per cent said that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael were wrong to rule out forming a government with Sinn Fein. These figures are significant without being overwhelming.

Part of the reason for the result is the fact that we have had a Fine Gael government for 9 years that only had the support of one quarter of the voters from 2016, a narrow base of support for a party that has never had real majority support.  A lot of people started off not having endorsed it and Fianna Fail’s confidence and supply arrangement did not act to add any popular support.

Now the decline of the two major parties has allowed Sinn Fein to come to the fore and we have widespread commentary that we have the beginnings at least of the formation of a new Irish politics defined by a left-right division.  So who is this left?

If we add up the parties to the left of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael we reach a total of 41.5% (SF, Greens, Labour, Social Democrats, Solidarity/People before Profit) which will only be slightly greater if we include some independents, most of whom are not left wing.

There is some coherence to this left in that Sinn Fein voters generally transferred to some of these parties and research has shown that the voters for these parties generally define themselves as left wing.  Unfortunately, all this does is transfer the limitations of this purely relative term to the people who vote for these ‘left-wing’ parties. They are, of course, to the left of the two main bourgeois parties, but how much does this tell us?

Included in this list of parties is Sinn Fein, which has grown as it has dropped its core programme of support for armed struggle to force the British out of the North of Ireland.   A list as long as your arm could be written of the U-turns it has accomplished as a result, but in the South of the country most notable is that it has gone from opposition to coalition with the two bourgeois parties to openly flouting their availability for a lash-up.  If the development of Irish politics has been defined by the crash of the Celtic Tiger, it should not be forgotten that Sinn Fein voted for the bank bail-out whereby generations of Irish workers will pay for the debts of the banks.

It includes the Green Party with 7.1% of the vote, which as a partner in Government with Fianna Fail, took political responsibility for the policies leading up to the crash and those afterwards, including the bank bail-out, suffering for years afterwards as a result.  Although apparently not long enough.

It also includes the Labour Party with 4.4%, which was the only party to vote against the bank bail-out, but then entered Government to inflict punishing austerity to pay for it.  Never one to shirk this role in alliance with Fine Gael, the party may have performed this cynical trick once too often.  The point of its existence is now regularly canvassed, since its brand is discredited and other parties appear to have taken up its claimed position on the left and apparently with greater sincerity.

The Social Democrats with 2.9% is the party that most clearly represents the alternative to Labour while Solidarity/People before Profit, with 2.6%, failed to make gains and lost one seat.  In a number of seats it relied on Sinn Fein transfers to get elected, without it seems showing much appreciation.  The left changed names, split again and ‘allied’ again for the elections and hailed the mood for change but no more defined it than before.  That it failed to profit from this mood is a real failure.

For groups claiming to be Marxist it is its own judgement that their intervention always fails to call into question the role of elections or advance the organisation and political consciousness of the Irish working class.  The limits of this consciousness have instead imposed itself on this left, by which we mean reliance on the state and failure to make reorganisation of the labour movement its aim.

Behind this motley history lies a coherence that is not apparent at first glance.  Greater state intervention is common to all these parties with a preference for a left government to carry it out, however variously understood.  Now Sinn Fein has said it wants to lead negotiations of these parties to create such a government.

The numbers do not add up but this is not initially the point.  The point would be some agreement that these components should come together with their own proposal for government.  Whether it succeeds is not within its control, but it sends a message.  What happens when it does not succeed is something else again.  It would at least form a benchmark against which voters in future elections might seek reference and therefore accord relevance.

Of course, some on the left ‘left’ might denounce Sinn Fein sincerity, pointing to its implementation of austerity while in office in the North, or its use of such an initiative purely for leverage with Fianna Fail in coalition negotiations, but this would be seeking to avoid the problem.  If such denunciations were effective on their own Sinn Fein would not be where it is today.  An alternative would be to challenge the party to make real on commitment to a left programme and a left government; because of the left’s own Keynesian-type policies there are no qualitative differences with its own programme.

If this is not the approach then the claims to fight for a left Government by Solidarity/People before Profit is a fraud, for what they can only mean in such a case is that their policy is for themselves alone in Government.  Given the propensity to split this looks even further away than their already 2.6% vote would lead one to believe.  One problem is that these organisations don’t trust each other or themselves, the latter leading to splits, and if this is the case, why should the working class?

Only a united, democratic left, whatever its political shortcomings, could begin to repair this situation.

Of course, this is not a very revolutionary perspective, but there are no smart political policies or demands that will make for one.  It reflects where the working class is at, the degree to which the election results have shown the scope and extent of radicalisation.  We either meet it, and seek to develop it, or we present it with ultimatums to be more revolutionary than it is.

 

 

Sinn Fein in Government?

This week’s Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI opinion poll reported that Sinn Fein is potentially headed to be the biggest party in this weekend’s general election,  While it’s on 25% support, the governing party Fine Gale is on 20% and the opposition Fianna Fail on 23%.  Sinn Fein has almost reached these levels of support before in the Irish State but never in first place.

The Irish Times sketch writer, Miriam Lord, has described all three parties as now in various degrees of panic.  Fine Gael, because its loss of support reflects the depths of opposition to its years in office and it may be out of it soon; Fianna Fail, because of its years of keeping Fine Gael in office in an agreement between the two parties, and Sinn Fein, because it has come as a surprise to it as much as many others after very bad Presidential, local and European elections.

The Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald, has been described as looking like an OTR (as in an ‘on the run’- a member of the IRA who doesn’t have immunity from prosecution) on the grounds that now that they have reached this great height they don’t want to screw it up by having to answer any difficult questions.  McDonald has been acclaimed for good media performances and tapping into a widespread mood for change, while also being applauded for not being too specific about how she is going to solve the health and housing crises giving rise to this demand for change.

It would not be wrong to note that Sinn Fein’s opposition to both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail does not exactly transmit into opposition to either of them being in office, only that they should be open to Sinn Fein joining them.  That of course would require a joint programme for Government, which by definition requires no significant differences between them in any potential coalition programme.  But if Sinn Fein can go into coalition with one of the most reactionary parties in Europe, I refer to the Democratic Unionist Party for those unfamiliar with Irish politics, coalition with either of these parties should not be a problem.

Fine Gael originates from part of the Irish Republican movement that fought the British in 1916 and in the War of Independence.  Leading figures in these struggles were also leading figures in the pro-Treaty side in the following civil war, including the prime military leader of the War of Independence, Michael Collins, and W T Cosgrave, the Irish State’s first Taoiseach.

Fianna Fail’s leaders also fought in 1916, the War of Independence and Civil War, just on the anti-Treaty side in the last conflict.  While the Pro-Treaty ancestor of Fine Gael supported the new Irish State from the beginning, because of the argument that it would provide ‘the freedom to achieve freedom’, the anti-Treaty Fianna Fail claim it is they who delivered it, (although it was a Fine Gael led government that declared the Irish State a Republic and Fianna Fail can’t explain what proved to be wrong with the pro-Treaty argument).

Sinn Fein holds itself to be the party both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail split from, except it itself is a split from the Official Republican Movement in 1970, its claim now resting on the fact that the Official Republicans abandoned the name and moved away from the politics of traditional Irish nationalism.  Like pro-Treaty republicans who rejected the British solution of Home rule; and like Fianna Fail, who rejected the new British solution of the Free State; Sinn Fein rejected both, but now accepts the latest British solution to ‘the Irish Question’, which on this side of the sea is more accurately described as ‘the British Question’.

All three parties now agree that the Free State/26 County State/Irish State is legitimate and now accept partition, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.  They have their differing constituencies of support – Sinn Fein stronger among less well-off sections of the working class in urban areas; Fianna Fail among farmers, but also among other social layers; and Fine Gael among the better off middle class, but they all hail from the same tradition of militant Irish nationalism that isn’t militant anymore.  In the end all three provide proof of the old adage that fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree.

For many decades now there has been no essential, and little inessential, difference between Fianna Fail (FF) and Fine Gael (FG), and many have ridiculed the competition between them.  It’s rather the political equivalent of club rivalry in the GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association), in which the cousins in one club beat the shit out of the cousins from a rival parish’s club.  If you’re in the club you don’t need explanation for the rivalry, but any explanation you might get for it will make not much sense.

Now we have a third force, which promises real change, and because of its youth, is not yet fully conscious of its position in the world and has yet to form a rounded, fully-developed and more or less permanent personality of gobshite politics. I have no doubt many Sinners believe they are opposed to austerity in the South and have not implemented it in the North, or will excuse themselves for it.  But reality says different.

Sinn Fein policies involve broadly social democratic promises, including significantly higher state spending, some lower taxes and increased taxation of businesses and higher incomes.  It has made hay with the now dropped plan of Fine Gael to commemorate the Royal Irish Constabulary, the paramilitary police force the British used to police the whole of Ireland before partition.  There is no good reason why this particular revisionist step should suddenly detonate a reaction, but it is welcome nonetheless, even if it exposes once again the limited nature of popular nationalism.

Sinn Fein are opposed and rather hysterically denounced by both FF and FG, but both of these have recognised the electoral need to support increased state spending and reduced emphasis on tax cuts.

They and Sinn Fein also do so because, as the economic boom in Ireland has continued, the inherent imbalances in capitalist growth require a State to intervene to ensure these do not become an obstacle to further profitable expansion.  Poor infrastructure in health, housing, childcare and transport threatens to increase the cost of labour power (the value of labour power in Marxist parlance) and so provide both practical and cost barriers to capital accumulation and growth.

The two most pressing are housing and health.  The problem is that more money is not the (only) problem for both and there is no easy solution for any of the parties within the limits of their political ideologies and projects.  An unreconstructed health service could gobble up much more money without comparable improvement in the population’s health, although the worst experiences might be avoided. Pumping more money into housing could easily make it more expensive to buy and rents no more affordable.  The power of the middle class interests in both, and particularly of landowners and property developers in political networks, makes any radical solution (that doesn’t automatically involve capitalist expropriation) the last thing the major political parties will want to do.  And this will be true of Sinn Fein, as potentially a new addition.

However, in itself, the Sinn Fein economic programme offers no insuperable barrier to the formation of a coalition with either Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.  The difference is mainly one of scale and the compromises involved in coalitions can cover that in every meaning of the word.  The economic boom provides as benevolent an environment as Sinn Fein is likely to get, even taking account of a potential hit from Brexit.

The potential for another recession, through another property crash (a couple of property investment funds have recently refused to allow investors to cash-out) might however reveal the underlying debt position of the state.  The bank bail-out that caused the bankruptcy of the Irish state has left an overhang of debt that is currently relatively easily affordable because of low interest rates, with yields on 10 year Irish bonds in negative territory.  But this cannot last and a recession could easily raise them.

But that is more than a problem for Sinn Fein, although it should not be forgotten that the party supported the bank bail out that made the debts of the banks the debts of the people.  Sinn Fein has thus shown that it is no more a real alternative to Fianna Fail than Fianna Fail is to Fine Gael.  It simply has yet to be demonstrated, which of course is not something inconsequential in itself.

Unlike the North, the Irish State is a sovereign state and acutely aware that the Provisionals were until relatively recently a subversive threat to the stability, if not the existence, of the state.  The Provisionals are no longer a real or a proclaimed threat but they are an armed force outside of state control, even if much diminished, and this is unacceptable.  Sinn Fein will still have much to prove and the political establishment in Dublin may make arrangements to ensure exclusion of Sinn Fein from office this time.  It may be possible, for example that Fianna Fail gains sufficiently in seats from the unpopularity of the Government that it is able to form a coalition, which some pundits predict will be the case.

The reaction of the left to Sinn Fein growth is to ask that it not enter coalition with either Fine Gael or Fianna Fail.   But this left is in competition with Sinn Fein for the same constituency and has regularly denounced it as soft on both establishment parties and ever-ready to do a deal with either of them.  The alternative, which I noted in a series of posts on the strategy that the left has pursued, was to be more open to an alliance with Sinn Fein and fight to unite with it in a common alliance.  Of course, this would require some common programme, but since the left’s electoral policies are just souped-up social democracy, this too would simply be a matter of compromise without breaking any principle.  The policies of the left do not involve the overthrow of capitalism, not to mention any mechanisms for the development of socialism.

In the first leaders debate on television, the first question asked was all about why people should vote for a party if it couldn’t form part of a government.  And this was a reasonable question, because this is what elections are for.  And it was a question that rendered People before Profit/Solidarity irrelevant and Richard Boyd Barrett with nothing to say.  Listening to him there was no sense in which he spoke on behalf of a movement outside the establishment bourgeois democratic process that in itself was the alternative to the problems he and the others were asked about.

That is because the left is currently now almost wholly an electoral force, something that limits its potential and limits its development.  A long time ago it ceased to fight for socialist politics in these elections and retreated to radical social democracy.  It clearly has no idea what sort of platform a Marxist organisation should stand upon in an electoral contest, or rather It thinks it already does.  However, its Keynesian policies and state-centred solutions render the working class absent as the agent of change, making it instead the supplicant of the state it must ultimately remove and replace.

The left has collapsed into social democratic politics in order to be consonant with the existing political consciousness of the Irish working class and to demonstrate its practical relevance to it by being elected.  But this ultimately means getting into office, a step it is both unprepared to take and to which it puts up unjustified obstacles, its opposition to Sinn Fein being one of them.

While it is possible to condemn Sinn Fein for its opportunism and its betrayal of working class interests, this has to be demonstrated.  Having decided to adopt electoralism as a strategy the left should either abandon the strategy and totally re-evaluate its understanding of Marxism, or it should follow through on its electoralism and take its social democratic programme to its logical conclusion.  If history is anything to go by, the latter is the much more likely road that will be taken.

Socialist and the elections in the North of Ireland part 1

It is often argued  in parts of the Irish and British left that the Northern Ireland state is irreformable.  Not in the sense that all capitalist states cannot be reformed to become instruments of working class rule, but in the sense that it is irredeemably sectarian and can never become a ‘normal’ capitalist democracy in which religious division is not primary.

One demonstration of the validity of such a view is the recent scandal over the Renewable Heat Incentive, which saw such levels of incompetence, waste and strong indicators of corruption that resignation by the responsible minister would have been inevitable in normal circumstances.  The attempts at denial of responsibility, to blame others and to prevent exposure of the facts would on their own have sunk any minister in Britain and even in the Southern Irish State, which has a higher bar when it comes to imposing some accountability on politicians for scandalous behaviour.

Instead the relevant minister, DUP leader Arlene Foster, sailed on with impunity, and with such bad grace and arrogance that even this by itself would have sunk a political career in Britain.  However, by playing the sectarian card, the Democratic Unionist Party remained the largest party (just) in the recent Northern Ireland Assembly election, saw its vote actually increase and its share of the vote decline by only just over 1%.

Sinn Fein, which had shown itself perfectly content with what the DUP had been getting up to, had opposed early closure of the scheme and opposed a public inquiry, yet saw its vote increase significantly.  It did this by playing the victim and claiming that it was standing up to unionist arrogance and lack of respect.

Despite their role in facilitating the scandal and accepting their second-class role for many years this tactic proved successful, even though it now leaves them with the knowledge that their past ten years of playing second fiddle to unionism is vehemently opposed by much of their support.  This leaves them exposed in returning to their preference for continuing the power-sharing arrangements, with only some minimal unionist commitment to implement the deals already agreed years ago as their cover for doing so.

So, what we have is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of the validity of the claim that the Northern state is sectarian to the core – the most obvious incompetence, arrogance and corruption is validated by the electorate, motivated not by ignorance of the issues surrounding the scandal, but by the desire not to be outdone by the other side of the sectarian divide.

So, the most vocal and determined defenders of sectarian rights are rewarded because the existing arrangements appear only to allow the allocation of resources according to sectarian criteria. This sectarian distribution of resources, in so far as it is under the control of the local administration, is applied with euphemisms such as equality, respect for tradition and for local community wishes.

What this means in reality is that equality is equality of sectarian division and respect is demanded for sectarian traditions, which is labelled ‘culture’ in order to legitimise division.  The involvement of local sectarian gangsters in “community work” is promoted and defended, even when genuine community representatives oppose paramilitary involvement.  While millions of pounds are handed out to associates in ‘green’ schemes that incentivise burning wood 24/7 and millions are spent on Orange halls and other organisations devoted to sectarianism, millions set aside for non-sectarian education are unspent precisely because it is non-sectarian. Such is the record of the Stormont parties after what they called a “Fresh Start”.

What approach socialists should take in a society in which the working class is so divided and dominated by reactionary ideas is obviously a source of division within the socialist movement itself and could hardly be otherwise.  What sort of purchase on reality can socialists have if their politics is based on the self-emancipation of the working class when this working class is largely in hoc to thoroughly reactionary ideas?

One approach is to deny this reality of sectarian division and pretend it either doesn’t exist or is not nearly as bad as it obviously is.  This leads to glossing over the majority of Protestant workers’ allegiance to reactionary royalist parties which have a history of sectarianism that would be anathema if it existed in Britain.  These unionist parties are to the right of UKIP, and then some.

In order to substantiate claims that workers’ unity is possible today this approach looks back and offers episodes of workers unity around economic issues in the past, such as the 1907 Belfast strike and the outdoor relief strike in 1932, that are, well, not exactly recent.

More recently we have had claims that large pro-peace demonstrations and rallies were also expressions of the working class, ignoring their largely anti-republican character or determination to show balance even when it was loyalists carrying out the preponderance of violent attacks.  What these demonstrations never, ever did was challenge state collusion with loyalists or point the finger at the state itself.  These rallies thereby became not an expression of any specifically working class view but of a general weariness with violence that was non-class and anti-political, except in endorsing the existing state order by default, when it was not doing so explicitly.

A second approach is to substitute a different goal than socialism, that can be considered a stepping stone to it, but which allows socialists to ally with republicans in the objective of destroying the sectarian state.  The demand for a united Ireland is therefore seen as a legitimate goal, in that it would allow much more favourable grounds to establish the workers’ unity across the island and further afield that is necessary for socialism.

The obvious problem with this is that the majority of Protestant workers in the North are opposed to this and would fight it.  The first tendency that glosses over division legitimates this fight by claiming it is simply opposition to a capitalist united Ireland, implying strongly that it is something progressive and as if another type of united Ireland is preferred, when it is in fact motivated mainly be sectarianism.

For the second socialist tendency, when the republican movement opposed British rule it was possible to justify some sort of defence of it, while making many criticisms of its politics and methods. However, when Sinn Fein abandoned opposition to the British state, endorsed partition and established itself as the main party for Catholic rights, it was no longer possible to give any support to it and it became necessary to see its defeat.

Its support for the rule of a State that had violently suppressed democratic rights and its espousal of communal sectarian rights as if they were democratic rights meant that socialists could no longer regard it as having a progressive content to its politics, a view confirmed by its sectarian practices while in office and its implementation of austerity.

The first socialist tendency sees the possibility of reforms that favour workers within the Northern State while the second sees no possibility for meaningful reforms.  In the recent election, the former was represented by two front organisations People before Profit controlled by the Socialist Workers Party and the Cross-Community Labour Alternative controlled by the Socialist Party.   I voted for the former in the recent Assembly election.

An example of the latter is Socialist Democracy, which called in the assembly election for no return to Stormont and its permanent closure, and also for a 32 county Workers’ Republic.  Obviously, the latter implies no room for reform in the North, with the immediate task being to destroy the Northern representative institution as a prelude to ending partition.  If this is the immediate objective then it can only mean any less radical reforms are pointless or just not possible and no social or political movement should be built for any different objective than ending Stormont.

I should say right away that I don’t think this view correct.  Reforms to the capitalist state are possible in Northern Ireland even if these can often be the subject of sectarian opposition or raise sectarian dispute in their implementation.  This is obviously true because such reforms are perfectly compatible with capitalism and its state, indeed the state is required to implement them.

The first socialist tendency equates this with steps towards socialism, if not the very growing embodiment of socialism itself, whereas my own view is that they simply create better grounds for workers to challenge capitalism while providing some minimum protection to them in the meantime.  Social democratic reforms are possible without social revolution because they do not threaten capitalism.  The first socialist tendency is essentially a social-democratic one, regardless of claims to Marxism.

The view that reforms in the Northern Irish state are impossible is obviously untrue because the welfare state was implemented in the North of Ireland despite unionist rule and despite its sectarian disfigurement, most evident in the provision of housing.  It is obvious that water charges were prevented because of their widespread unpopularity and just as obvious that abortion rights in Northern Ireland should be fought for now, with the added twist that this unites women and progressive workers against the most egregious bigots on both sides.  Religious conservatism and its relationship to sectarian bigotry is a weakness of the Northern State and not a strength.  The previous demand for civil rights demonstrated in spades the fragility for the state when faced with the demand for reforms that were unobjectionable elsewhere.

It is equally obvious that we should oppose sectarianism in all its forms, including opposition to state funding of sectarian organisations like the Orange Order and opposition to church involvement in the provision of state services, including schools and hospitals.

To fail to fight for reform is the worst sort of ultra-leftism that is every bit as divorced from reality as the belief that workers in the North are more or less ready to drop sectarianism and rally to socialism.  Indeed, if it was really believed that no reforms were possible then fighting for them would equally be a frontal assault on the state, or at least lead to one in rapid order.

The demand for the permanent closure of Stormont is no doubt partially based on a reading of past history in which the demand for the destruction of Stormont was a demand for the closure of an exclusively unionist instrument of oppression and repression, an oppression that would be likely to continue if Stormont continued.  There was zero possibility of using it in any way to soften this repression or mobilise against it and it was argued that its downfall would open up the question of alternative political arrangements that many republicans and socialists hoped would include a united Ireland.

Forward to part 2

Brexit and Ireland – part 3

The North of Ireland is the weakest part of the UK so should expect to be hit most by Brexit.  Local news has reported two companies as already shifting operations to the Irish State in preparation for the UK leaving.  The EU is the North’s largest export market and while for the UK as a whole, for the period 2004 to 2014, the share of exports going to non-EU countries has grown more than that to EU countries, this has not been the case for Northern Ireland. Since it has been pointed out that some agricultural products can pass across the border numerous times, the scope for tariff and non-tariff barriers to stifle this trade is significant.  Such tariffs generally range between 6 and 22 per cent

While for the three years reported in this paper, the share of EU exports going to the EU has been around 50% for the UK, it has been around 60% for Northern Ireland (NI). In terms of cross-border trade, exports from the North to the South are more important to the North than exports to the North are for the South.   Foreign Direct Investment uses Northern Ireland to export into the rest of the EU so any exit will hit this investment and this employment.

Finally, there is the loss of EU funding, especially for farmers, not that this seems to have prevented many unionist farmers from voting for Brexit.  The UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs estimated that direct payments to farmers under EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies represented 87% of annual farm income in NI.

Brexit could impel the UK into trade based on World Trade Organisation rules, just when the US under Trump signals that it may ignore these rules when it doesn’t suit.  China is also reported to be breaking WTO rules but the length of time it takes to rule on any breach and the potential for retaliation are strong impediments to enforcement.   In any case the UK is already failing to manage its trade and might be fined billions of Euros by the EU for failing effectively to police the existing EU rules.  Hardly an endorsement of its ability to look after its own borders after Brexit.

The new US administration is hailed as a potential alternative to the EU even while Trump threatens to restrict and withdraw US investment abroad.  You know Brexit is a disaster when the nationalist policy of the Trump administration is put forward as the alternative, but more importantly you know how stupid the Brexit idea is in the first place when you admit you need an alternative and don’t already have one.

If Brexit makes no sense in the North it scarcely represents an advantage to the South.  It may benefit from firms relocating from NI and Britain but this is likely to be relatively minor compared to the disruption to trade with the UK, which is worth over €1 billion per week.  Exports from the Irish agri-food sector to the UK amount to over €3 billion or over 50% of that sector’s value.  The Irish State has the biggest share of exports going into the UK of any EU country, so has the greatest exposure to potential reduction of this trade.  It also has one of the biggest numbers of its citizens living in the UK of any EU country, exposing them to the threats to their rights the Tories are deploying in an effort to get a better deal.

Merchandise exports from the Irish State to the UK were over 25% of such exports in 2015 while services traded to the UK were nearly 19% of such services.  It has been estimated that in 2014 200,000 people were employed as a direct result of exports to the UK, or over 10 per cent of employment.   Again any reduction in markets could lead to reduced employment, wages, tax receipts and thus state-funded services.

In this respect, it is interesting to note that many of the economic forecasts of the quantitative economic impact of Brexit show greater falls in wages than in economic growth generally, which is no doubt a feature of the models but which shows that it is assumed that workers will pay most from Brexit.

None of this is particularly surprising and most people just get numbed by too many figures.  The effects are recognised and the question is how these are to be mitigated.  The Tories talk about opening up Britain to the world, but this world includes a growing protectionist US; a more powerful China that has already forced a British climb-down over a nuclear power station; Japanese car companies who have done the same; a Commonwealth that is supposed to welcome a return to a 21st century British Empire, and the rest of the world, much of which is part of trade blocs that the British are rejecting.  Given this context, were Brexit to go ahead, the direction of the British state will be less under its control than it was inside the EU.

Similar problems will face the Irish State if Brexit goes ahead. Up to now it could straddle a growing relationship to the EU with historic but declining dependence on the UK; and it could do this while acting as if it was the latest State to join the Union, that is the union of the United States of America.  Brexit threatens the second and Trump threatens the third.  The first is threatened by the nature of the type of Brexit that may occur and by being squeezed by the US and Britain.

If controls on immigration that are under the authority of the EU and British impede migration to the UK, the importance of this migration will decline relative to the Irish State’s greater trade with the EU, making it more attractive to enter into the Schengen area to facilitate such trade.  Entry into the Schengen area for any reason would make problematic any more favourable Irish migration arrangements with the UK compared to others, who might object to less favourable arrangements for their own EU citizens. Either way migration links to Britain could suffer, and such migration (just like that to the US) has always been a safety valve for the young fleeing a country that is regularly unable to promise it a future.

So, if the UK leaving the EU will hurt both Irish States, it is hard to see the sense in advocating that the Irish State also leave.  Unlike in Britain this policy is really confined to sections of the Left and more ‘radical’ nationalists and republicans.  But at least it is consistent with the latter’s nationalism, while how the Left expects workers to become more internationalist while their country becomes more isolated is another sorrowful mystery; even the Tories recognise the need to develop international links.  But why would European workers rally to a movement that declares that the problem is their ‘foreign’ capitalist states and not its own.

But of course, some new orientation to the world would be necessary for an Irish State outside the EU and there is really only one immediate candidate – back to the loving embrace of the similarly isolated British State, ludicrously trying to re-live its imperial youth.  A death-embrace of two states simultaneously pursuing a race to the bottom as a low wage, deregulated, offshore tax haven.

In doing so an Irish State would suffer badly, and just like the economic models relating to Brexit, we can be certain that it would be Irish workers who would suffer most for the nationalist fantasy that is Irexit.  The idea that something progressive or even socialist could develop out of such a project is preposterous.

The Euro area is by far the Irish State’s biggest trading partner, €109 billion in combined exports and imports in 2013/2014, compared to €52 billion for the UK.  Much of the foreign direct investment in the Irish State is because of its access to the EU market and could be expected to leave if it left the EU.  Foreign owned companies account for more than 20 per cent of employment while they dominate exports.

The Irish State would have to create a new currency, especially if (in the very unlikely event) its exit was motivated by the nationalist Left, which regards the Euro as a devil incarnate.  Establishing the credibility of this currency would require massive austerity while failure to do so would guarantee massive inflation.  In either case living standards could be expected to plummet.

In both parts of Ireland Brexit and Irexit is and would be a disaster.

The Left supporters of Irexit would have to find a new name for the above description of the results of Brexit and Irexit, as dismissing it as another ‘Project Fear’ wouldn’t quite cut it, as the experience of attempting to destroy capitalism by destroying capitalism only became a reality.

How ironic that it is the ideological supporters of capitalism itself that are inflicting this damage, rather than the relatively irrelevant proponents of Lexit.  Not only is this Left’s programme of breaking with the EU being implemented by the likes of UKIP, Tories, the Daily Mail and The Sun but the nonsense of a ‘progressive’ Brexit is being pursued by Corbyn’s Labour Party.  And we can see how useless that is as well.

Rarely does this Left get such an opportunity to see its big policies implemented. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely they will learn anything from their errors, since they seem barely to recognise that what they have wanted is actually being implemented.

Concluded

Back to part 2

 

 

 

Brexit and Ireland part 1 – the Irish Left

irexitI have just read that various police forces in Britain have taken steps to prepare for a spike in racist and ‘hate’ crimes once Article 50 is triggered in March.  It is also correctly predicted that the course of the negotiations will present numerous opportunities for nationalists and racists to turn the failure of these negotiations to deliver on their fantasies into attacks on foreigners.  What the Tories will do verbally in attacking the EU it can be safely assumed that nationalist street thugs will do with their fists.

The reactionary outcome of the Brexit referendum is so obvious that it is simply grotesque and monstrously stupid that those sections of the left who supported Brexit still see it as progressive.  How dim or blinded by political dogma does one have to be not to see the link between the rise in racist attacks and the encouragement given to racists by the Brexit result?

The reactionary consequences of Brexit are glaringly obvious yet the process is being touted by it supporters in Britain as the way forward for the left in the rest of Europe.  The reactionary dreamers of a long lost imperial glory want to go back to the past while left supporters of Brexit imagine that a massive step back to the past will somehow represent a great leap forward into the future.  One of the few difference between the former and the latter is that the former makes more sense!

The European left have the luxury of watching the British events from one remove, but it is not the only advantage that they have.  Having witnessed the dire outcomes of Brexit they should stand firmly against their own states seeking the nationalist short cut to a non-solution though exiting the EU.  They too, just like British workers, must be alert to any weakening and diminution of their rights arising from the Brexit negotiations.  Of course, were Brexit the progressive outcome claimed by some we should expect a boost to workers’ rights from the negotiations, but the ridiculousness of such a thought only exposes the idea as incredible.

This is particularly the case for Irish workers whose state has the strongest links to Britain and could be most immediately and directly affected.  Yet even in Ireland the same left supporters of Brexit trot out the same ignorant arguments in favour of the decision; despite the increased xenophobia, despite the increased racist attacks, despite the massive shift to the right in the agenda of the Tory government, and opposite incoherence of the Corbyn-led Labour Party.  Despite all the evidence that the consequences have been reactionary the Brexit-supporting left has learned nothing.

The basis for their support for Brexit is the same mistaken arguments of their co-thinkers in Britain. Thus, they say that “the EU is run in the interest of Europe’s bosses and bankers.”  It is “deeply undemocratic, anti-worker, racist and regressive.”  Yep, mostly very true, just like the Irish State itself, which is the alternative to the EU that they put forward.  The nation state that doesn’t even include all of the nation is the alternative to the increased unity of the various states which determine the EU’s policy.  Apparently this is because although the EU cannot be reformed, the Irish State can.

In fact the Irish left must be applauded for making their illusions in nationalism so clear – that their opposition to the EU is based on their belief that the various capitalist nation states can be reformed and become the route to socialism.  The task across Europe is “to bring Left governments to power which will nationalise industry, while the EU would only be “a fetter on a future left-wing government.”

Capitalist state ownership and its political power is presented as socialism without an inkling that socialism is the power of the working class, which it is the capitalist state’s function to suppress and repress.  This complete misunderstanding of what socialism is about means that there is no conception of how it can arise from the current system.

It is correctly recognised that the EU is an attempt to “overcome the limitations of the nation state, to allow the free flow of capital and labour so as to maximise profits as well as forming a more powerful geo-political bloc.  The withdrawal of one of its major economies represents a profound blow to these ambitions.”

This apparently is what makes Brexit progressive.  It’s as if the objective of socialism is to restrict the free flow of capital and to frustrate the maximisation of profits.  It is probably news to these socialists that this is not the objective of socialism.

Capitalism presents its own barriers to the free flow of capital and the maximisation of profit, and which are expressions of the contradictions of capitalism pointed out by Karl Marx 150 years ago.  The point of socialism is to resolve these contradictions through the birth of a new system, not to intensify capitalist contradictions as an objective in itself.

On the other hand, it is an objective of socialism to support “the free flow of labour” and it is the objective of socialism to “overcome the limitations of the nation state”.  In fact, one objection to capitalism is that it has so far proved unable to do this.  Socialists do not seek to go back to the nation state but forward beyond it based on the steps that capitalism has already taken.  The first is called freedom of movement, an elementary democratic right and vital to workers’ unity, and the second is called socialist internationalism, the idea of which the Brexit left seems totally innocent.

Finally, this Brexit-Irexit left want to land a profound blow against “forming a more powerful geo-political bloc” by forming a Lilliputian bloc of one.

This left proclaims that it voted for Brexit “not because we have anything in common with the nationalism and xenophobia of the likes of UKIP” but because the EU is neo-liberal etc.  But this is obviously untrue.  The proposed Brexit referendum was sufficiently to their liking that they voted for it, called on everyone else to vote for it, still support even now and call for other countries to emulate it.  Nothing in common?  Is all this just a coincidence then?

What they both have in common is a nationalist conception of politics that is centred on the professed progressive potential of the nation state.  Both seek national independence as a prerequisite for progress and state intervention as the key to it. Totally the opposite of the socialist view that unity across nations is the key for workers and the nation state an obstacle to this.

Even in terms of the specific role of increased state spending, the views of this left are not so far from some of the proposals for increased spending presented by those other nationalists Trump and le Pen.  The tide of reactionary nationalism that these two and the Brexiteers represent threatens trade wars justified by rabid jingoistic rhetoric and sabre rattling.  The world has been here before in the twentieth century.  Giving a left gloss on this growth of reactionary nationalism by tail-ending it is a massive mistake, only reduced in effect by the relatively small forces advocating it.

The Brexit-supporting left is oblivious to their own role in the growth of this nationalist politics.  It minimises the xenophobic and racist content of the Brexit referendum by claiming that the Remain campaign was also anti-immigrant, ignoring the difference in degree and importance of such ideas on each side.  How quickly the murder of a Labour MP by a nationalist fanatic is forgotten!  How likely was this to have arisen from a supporter of the Remain campaign?

This left doesn’t even believe its own excuses – acknowledging that “the majority of ‘Remain’ voters did so for very positive reasons – in opposition to the xenophobia and inward-looking nationalism of the forces which dominated the official ‘Leave’ campaign, expressing a desire for unity across national borders.”  A desire expressed in freedom of movement within the EU, a freedom ignored completely in the series of analyses reviewed for this post.

All this exposes the hollowness of proclaimed opposition to rising anti-immigrant prejudices, prejudices fuelled by the decision they supported and still support.  Political positions have a logic outwith the sincerest of intentions – it’s commonly called the road to hell being paved with good intentions.  But even here the articles can’t help skirt with prejudice by talking of the “strain” caused by immigration and “the real concerns over the effects of immigration.”

This left presents frankly delusional claims that Brexit has been good for the working class – “opportunities are posed for the working class to organise and assert their interests” and “the working class can now more easily shape the course of events than it could within the glass prison of the EU.”

But in the real world the increase in racist attacks continues and reactionary nationalist rhetoric intensifies.  The Tories threaten to create a low-wage, low tax and deregulated free market paradise off the coast of Europe – a threat to British workers and to all of Europe’s workers – not an opportunity.

Most directly and immediately it is a threat to Irish workers.  After all, who else occupies the low tax, low regulation, super-business friendly niche that the Tories threaten to move into more obviously than the Irish?  My goodness, we even speak the same language.  Of course, the Irish State is inside the EU, which is a great attraction to US multinationals, but this does not help trade barriers for Irish-owned industry buying or selling into Britain, when Britain leaves the EU.  So, what better solution than for the Irish state to leave the EU as well?  After all, this fits the Trump agenda into the bargain.  Just a pity that this particular nationalist agenda also presents its own threats to the Irish ‘model’ of development.

Whatever way you look at it the nationalist agenda espoused by the Brexit-loving Irish left doesn’t offer any solutions to Irish workers.  But then, the Brexit left knows this itself:

“The bosses in Ireland will attempt to go on the offensive against the pay and conditions of workers in an attempt to make Irish exports more “competitive”, in the context of Sterling devaluing against the Euro. In short it is workers in Ireland, both public and private sector, who will be hit by the economic fallout of Brexit. Already the ESRI have talked of wage cuts taking place of between 4-5% for up to 60,000 workers. There have also been reports that the government may seek to attack the pay of public sector workers.”

So “it is workers in Ireland . . . who will be hit by the economic fallout of Brexit”.  But sure, wouldn’t it grand all the same?

Forward to part 2

Towards a Revolutionary Party in Ireland?

swpieA friend sent me a link to an article he thought was dreadful saying it might be worth me replying to.  By coincidence I had looked at the site on Sunday to see the latest on what the Socialist Workers Party was saying and thought I would read one of the articles.  I saw this one but thought I wouldn’t waste reading yet another article on the revolutionary party.  Read one you’ve read them all.

Of course being bad isn’t necessarily a good reason to review something but I read it in my lunch break anyway.

Having done so I thought that it really is woeful and although it makes some unremarkable decent points these are put in the service of an argument so flabby it barely evokes disdain.  Lots of questions are raised but only in the question-begging sense and all the real difficulties are avoided.  Like when was the last time a party that could reasonably call itself revolutionary was built in Europe?

The article gives three reasons “why a revolutionary party must be built.”  The first is to “bring together activists from Clondalkin and Ballyfermot, Artane and Dun Laoghaire, Cork and Sligo, Wicklow and Wexford.”  The author has in mind the recent anti-water charges campaign but also recent strikes. “Without a party the tendency would be just to sit back as individuals either cursing at the TV or worse being influenced by it.”

A revolutionary party will tell workers not to trust their trade union leaders.  Their activists will provide workers with good arguments against racism because they have “people who know the facts, the history and the arguments.”

Why you need a party for activists to unite, in the water charges campaign for example, is not explained. In fact pretty obviously you don’t need a party, never mind a revolutionary one, you just need a democratic campaign.  Unfortunately the anti-water charges campaign never became such an organisation, which it should have been the priority of socialists to create.

Why you need a revolutionary party so you don’t sit on the couch and swear at the TV is beyond me.  I recall the SWP standing one of its leading members for leader of Ireland’s biggest trade union SIPTU but his manifesto never mentioned social partnership and the policy of open collaboration of the unions with the bosses and the state.  One part of history with its arguments and facts the author appears to have forgotten.

The second reason for needing a revolutionary party is that “forming a left government is, in itself, not enough.” The working class has to “move towards revolution and smashing of the capitalist state.”  Were I an innocent abroad I would wonder why the SWP, as part of People before Profit, stands in elections with a programme totally devoted to winning governmental office.  Because if it doesn’t the manifesto doesn’t make any sense.  No mention in it of distrusting the capitalist state never mind smashing it.

The final reason is that while revolutions may break out spontaneously they don’t succeed without a revolutionary party.  The author gives the example of the Irish revolutionary process between 1919 and 1923 and “the counter-revolution” that betrayed the 1916 rising.  A perfect example of what is wrong with the whole article.

Between 1919 and 1923 there was no socialist revolution to betray and 1916 was no such a revolution.  More facts and history misunderstood and arguments I take to task here, here, here and here.  To be fair to the SWP I don’t recall reading any left wing group doing anything other than paint the 1916 rising in colours of red that it didn’t display at the time.

The reason a revolutionary party is needed in a time of revolution is apparently because the working class will not have a uniform level of political consciousness.  And this is true.  What we don’t get explained is how the majority of workers will develop revolutionary consciousness.  It is this problem that I have been looking at in my series on Karl Marx’s alternative to capitalism.  And this is the real problem, given the total lack of real revolutionary challenge to capitalism for nearly a century.  In some countries, including Ireland, the challenge has never occurred or even looked likely.

The real deficiency with the hastily constructed article is the avoidance of this problem coupled with a view that a revolutionary party will be built by groups like the SWP.

Any movement of the working class capable of building a challenge to capitalism, that at some stage will achieve its overthrow in a political and social revolution, will be created over decades. It will involve political radicalisation that can only be the result of profound and lasting strengthening of the working class not simply in ideological or political terms but through its developing economic and social power – proving that ideas and politics reflect the economic and social development of society.  In short – the working class and its radicalisation will create the mass workers party capable of revolution and not small organisations.

This is what Marx meant by “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.”  The alternative conception of the SWP is of a crisis in which workers search for a solution and a revolutionary party becomes big enough to convince them to follow it in overthrowing capitalism.  It is not the result of a long-determined objective of greater numbers of workers based on their prior accumulation of economic, social and political weight in society that culminates in the conquest of political power.  Instead it becomes a question of accumulating, not this power, but the cadres of a small but ever-increasing organisation.  This prognosis becomes ridiculous when the smallness of the organisation reveals itself clearly to be inadequate to this historic task.  And the SWP author cannot help betraying this reality.

He claims that there is substantial radicalisation of the working class in Ireland North and South and that significant progress can be made in building a revolutionary party.  The first slip is to fail to define ‘significant’ and the second is to assume that the SWP is that revolutionary party.  The final one is the conclusion to the article where the task is reduced to recruiting individuals and having regular and interesting meetings.  In between is the attempt to buttress the first claim by pointing to the anti-water charges movement and the marriage equality referendum victory in the South.

As the author says, the anti-water charges movement reflected not only anger at this measure but also at the economic crash, the bank bail-out, wage cuts, the USC, Household Charge, community cuts, health cuts, housing crisis and “everything else”.  However the “water charges were a piece of pain that the working class felt it could do something about.”  However if we were really approaching the creation of a mass revolutionary party then this would simply not be the case.  The working class would feel it could do something about all these other injustices and would reflect its knowledge that it really did have the power to do something about all of them.

The anti-water charges campaign has led to no cumulative mass organisation of workers able to take up the other attacks.  The marriage referendum involved a democratic question that did not question capitalism so why would it lead to mass socialist radicalisation?  In the North the case for radicalisation rests on flimsy evidence that amounts to a few strikes, “small campaigns” and the election of two PbP candidates to the Stormont Assembly.  It therefore has to ignore the failure of the strikes, the smallness of the campaigns and the continued dominance by two sectarian parties one of which has ideological views about gay rights, women’s rights and evolution that might embarrass Donald Trump.

This overestimation of the significance of current facts is testament to a small organisation that thinks it has made it big, which it has in comparison to its previous history and others on the left, but which retains a narrow view of the world that ultimately reflects its still limited position in society.  The small mindedness of its politics is the failure to appreciate just how far away we are from revolution being on the agenda.  A cause for despair only if you fail to appreciate the facts, fail to understand history and have no arguments as to how revolutionary politics would be relevant in a prolonged non-revolutionary situation.

The SWP author is right to note that in Ireland there is no mass social democratic or Stalinist parties.  It is therefore the case that formations like the SWP/PbP and the similar Socialist Party/Anti-Austerity Alliance can potentially play a much more significant role in advancing the political organisation of the working class.  However to do this they will have to discard the narrow sectarian practices of the past, and face up to the more difficult questions that they face.  To do this would mean a truly revolutionary evaluation of their political history, the arguments they have unthinkingly relied upon and the real political facts of Irish society and its place in the world.  This article shows how far they are from carrying out such a task out and ironically how far they are from any sort of revolutionary party.

A Progressive Brexit?

The Brexit campaign won with the slogan – “take back control”, the rallying cry of right wing Tories and UKIP.  Much more than ironic then that its successful leaders were left totally without control – Boris, Gove and Farage. Except of course Boris has bizarrely been give the job of Foreign Secretary, but then maybe it’s because he’s not even in favour of it but will still be made to share the rap for the Brexit disaster that awaits.

As one writer has pointed out, while the Tory Government didn’t have a plan B this lot didn’t even have a plan A.

It was enough for the Brexiteers that the nationalist argument that UK laws should be made in the UK was won.  There was no plan how they could then put their objectives into effect; for example many have noted that reducing immigration on the scale demanded is not compatible with their demand for single market access.  Johnson’s after-referendum article in the ‘Sunday Telegraph’ promised that everything would now change, with a reassurance that nothing would change – reminiscent of that other nationalist campaign for separation in Scotland.

Despite pretence to the contrary the Lexit campaign – the call for a progressive exit from the EU – made exactly the same call with exactly the same disregard for how the purported objectives behind it could be brought about.

Both Right and Left made exactly the same argument that the UK should be free of the restrictions of the EU with the Lexit Left claiming that this was, and presumably still is, necessary to end austerity.  The EU, it said, was a capitalist club that the UK should leave.  It would appear that the argument here was that this capitalist member should leave the club because somehow it would then be easier to make it less capitalist, ignoring the fact that the UK state is already itself a capitalist club for the capitalist firms within it.

That the capitalist state is already a capitalist club escapes the advocates of Lexit because they start from the perspective that the nation state can be the instrument for socialism while a collective of such states cannot.

The accusation that the EU imposes austerity is correct as far as it goes but it doesn’t go far for the UK; the Tories needed no one to tell them to impose austerity and it would be a cover-up to claim it has not been their responsibility.  In fact it is the UK alongside the US which has spearheaded the neoliberal ideological revolution in Europe and across the world.

Certainly we know Greece has suffered and continues to suffer from Eurozone austerity but Greece is a small and weak country in comparison to the UK.  We have enough evidence that the rules apply differently to bigger countries such as France and Germany.  In any case, just how would leaving the EU assist the Greeks fight the EU’s austerity?

It is argued that the way this might be achieved is through a mass anti-austerity campaign, but just like the Boris’s and Gove’s of this world the Lexit game plan makes no sense and it was obvious from the start it made no sense.  Everyone knew the Brexit campaign would be led and dominated by the most vicious right wing political forces and that a victory for such forces would be a victory for reaction in general.  That doesn’t change with the leading figures screwing up their victory – the announcement of the potential for even greater corporation tax cuts and the increase in racism and xenophobia are two illustrations of this. The assault on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party is another.  The make-up of the new Tory cabinet yet another.

Which brings us to the Lexit campaign’s alibi for failure.  You see it’s not their fault that this strategy is such obvious mince, it’s the fault of Jeremy Corbyn and his failure to campaign for Brexit. Apparently had he done so it would have made Brexit progressive, it would miraculously have made all the little-Englanders (and Little Great Brits in the rest of the UK) a progressive force.  It would have made them, including large numbers of alienated workers, less racist and xenophobic.  By agreeing with them that the British state would be better off alone it would have made them less nationalistic and would have won them to an anti-austerity message.  Instead of being ignored by the mass media and press in his campaign for Remain, Corbyn would have been propelled by this media to the front row in place of Boris, Gove and Farage.  Wouldn’t he?

No doubt all those workers who voted to Remain, including the majority of young people, would just have followed a Brexit/Lexit call by Corbyn.  Why wouldn’t they?  Wouldn’t this just be an example of what these so-called vanguard organisations call leadership?  People have no ideas of their own, they just follow slogans and ‘leaders’ and would be happy to be on the same side as UKIP. No doubt they would have found it easy to combine support for leaving the EU with support for less vindictive immigration controls, alongside those supporting Brexit who are unhappy that the controls are not vindictive enough.

In the real world, had Corbyn attempted to rally to the Brexit/Lexit cause the Labour Party would have been thrown into chaos and his support in Momentum and the trade unions would have collapsed in demoralisation.  The coup by the Blairite MPs would have been executed before the referendum campaign had even officially began and John McDonnell wouldn’t now be in a position to call them “fucking useless”.

All this might seem to be about re-fighting the last war again, after all the political landscape has radically changed in only a few weeks.  But this is not the case, because the Lexit campaigners have got what they wanted – a vote to exit the EU – so how do they substantiate the claim that where we are now will help the fight against austerity?  How will the legitimation of racism and anti-immigrant prejudice help unite workers?

The Left organisations supporting Lexit are now dependent on the labour Party Remain leadership to be even remotely relevant because the immediate struggle that dominates politics will be the fight to retain Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.  Only by and through achieving this can an anti-austerity movement be created.

However, because of the referendum result we are now presented with the task of having to fight for a progressive Brexit.  How can we achieve it and is it even possible?  Are there any alternatives?

Brexit will mean the gutting of the UK legal system of legislation either reliant on, or possibly dictated by, the EU or by EU law that is not transposed but directly effective.  Huge gaps will emerge where new purely UK law does not replace EU laws and regulations.  What laws to keep, replace or leave out will be a paradise of anti-worker butchery for the Tory Government.

Jeremy Corbyn has presented the line that the Labour Party must fight to defend workers’ rights in the Brexit negotiations and presumably it is in identifying and campaigning against this opportunity for the Tories that he is referring to.  Going on the offensive it isn’t.

As I have posted before, a Left exit would still require negotiations with the remaining EU on trade and investment and the free movement of people.  In such negotiations not only would the leaders of the EU not be inclined to be generous to the UK, it having just threatened and damaged its project, but it would be doubly antagonistic to demands put forward that were to be in the best interests of British workers.  First, because they would not be interested in the rights of Britain and secondly because they would not be interested in the rights of British workers.

For European workers the British would have been seen to seek their own interests separate from those of the rest of the EU who otherwise could be its allies in fighting their own conservative Governments.  These Governments are therefore under less pressure from their own working classes to accommodate any demands arising from a ‘progressive’ Brexit.

By definition the UK Government, even a left one, could only negotiate a Brexit on behalf of British workers, so immediately the logic of nationalist division weakens a working class approach based on the unity of all workers regardless of nationality.  Why would the EU succumb to the demands of a left British Government that’s leaving?

Perhaps the supporters of a progressive Brexit think that they could simultaneously ride the Remain view of freedom of movement and the reactionary anti-immigrant attitude of Brexit and negotiate more open and liberal migration rules.  But how would they sell this to the Brexit majority and how would they sell more liberal UK immigration laws relating the wider world if these were more open than those allowed by the EU itself, which is what the proponents of Lexit claim they support?

Because while the UK could have more open borders to the rest of the world than the EU the EU would not be obliged to accept entry to it of any additional migration allowed to the UK.  Yet another example of the necessity for international action and the utter blindness of national roads to socialism, or whatever else Brexit/Lexit could more accurately be described as.

So even a Left exit would end up in the same position as Brexit – the EU would set limiting rules of access while the UK would have no voice in setting these rules.  How does this assist British workers uniting with their brothers and sisters in the rest of Europe?  How does this assist opening the borders between workers of different countries?

Of course much of this is speculation – we don’t know how future arrangements may be arrived at but this is an entirely plausible scenario that illustrates that there is no progressive ‘Lexit’ on offer.  It isn’t going to happen.

So are there alternatives?  What about a second referendum?  Or would this not be anti-democratic?  What would the Irish who have been here before say?  Well, I think they would say – yes it would be undemocratic!

It could be claimed that there is little point in observing that the Brexit campaign lied through its teeth and has immediately retracted pretty much all its biggest claims; about money saved going to the NHS or of a future large reduction in immigration.  If telling the truth was a prerequisite for maintaining the results of a vote the Tories would not still be in office.  So there is nothing unique about a vote being based on lies.  Neither is there mileage in numerous anecdotes that many Brexit voters have changed their minds.  Being serious about politics is not a necessary qualification for the franchise.

On the other hand it cannot be argued that these things don’t matter, because they reflect the fact that Brexit is a big delusion and mistake.  You don’t get petitions signed by millions of people if there isn’t some dispute about the legitimacy of the outcome, although reversing it is not a matter of simply running it again to get a different result.

Nevertheless for socialists the first thing to say about such a proposal is that there is no principled reason why there could not be a new vote.  What matters is how this might come about.

Socialists do not regard any particular vote under the terms set by capitalist democracy as sacrosanct because all such exercises are predicated on the majority not being able to implement any decision arrived at.  Instead a political machine called the state carries out all such decisions, to a degree and in a manner that it sees fit, through political parties that carry out the job of filtering what will and what won’t ultimately be carried out.  In other words capitalist democracy is part sham, part neutered and part a necessary requirement for the working class movement to organise and advance its interests.  And it is advancing these interests, the interests of the vast majority, which is paramount.

It is thus not the sovereignty of the state, not the legitimacy of Parliament and not the authority of the Government that is decisive but the struggle of classes; in this struggle it is the advancement of the working class, its sovereignty, its legitimacy and its authority which must be foremost.  It is not one particular exercise in capitalist democracy that is sacrosanct but that of the democracy of working people struggling against the power of a capitalist system which is anything but democratic.

The lies of the Brexit campaign and the inability of those disillusioned millions who voted for Brexit to execute their vote as they intended are all testament to the limitations of capitalist democracy.  The threats of job losses and cuts in living standards resulting from a depreciating currency show how little the majority have control over the society in which they live.  Capitalism makes a mockery of the reactionary and Lexit vanities about taking back control.

In these circumstances negotiations on Brexit and the fight to ensure that the rights of workers are not sacrificed on the altar of a ‘popular’ vote will reveal the realities of the referendum vote even further than the swift events that followed the vote.  A rejection of Brexit however could only be legitimated or accomplished to the benefit of workers and young people if there is a struggle to defend their rights that leads to a vote or election that clearly signals a rejection of the referendum result.

An election engineered to reverse Brexit by the deceitful and debased methods of the referendum would increase the potency of the most bitter and reactionary elements of the Brexit campaign.

The struggle to defend working class interests and reverse the result must be fought in the open if progress is to be made in reducing and substantially defeating the reactionary impulses and prejudices within the British working class.   This can only be done by mobilising its best and progressive forces.  These are currently grouped around Jeremy Corbyn and it is no accident that even those on the Left who supported Brexit find themselves supporting and dependent on these Remain campaigners.

Brexit is reactionary and its implementation will provide repeated evidence of it.  In fighting against its effects such a fight should not renounce fighting their immediate cause.