Brexit and the politics of ‘dead Russians’

I’ve written a number of posts criticising the support for Brexit by some left organisations but these haven’t addressed the original political inspiration for this support.

Brexit is a nationalist project, which is obvious when the likes of UKIP or the right wing of the Tory Party declare their support for it.  However, this is also true of its supporters on the left

‘Lexit’ is simply a left version of Brexit nationalism and left or right, it is nationalism which defines both types of support.  In effect, it doesn’t matter whether the intentions of these leftists are good, or they get one thing right – that the EU is a creation of international capitalism – the left supporters of Brexit have rallied behind a reactionary cause.

So, for example, it is not just the case that left supporters of Brexit were drowned out during the referendum by the more obviously reactionary campaigns; the argument of these people was invisible because it was fundamentally no different from that of the mainstream Leavers.   Both assumed the need to defend the predominant role of the nation state against the internationalisation of the economy and society, including its political form in the shape of the EU.

This can be seen in the many parallels between the arguments of the right-wing supporters of Brexit and its left echoes. Again and again the arguments presented by both, such as they are, are fundamentally the same, as we will see in a later post.  Both denounce the lack of accountability in the EU and compare it unfavourably with the democratic character of member states.  Then we’re told that it’s simply choice between the two.  A simple choice – with a straightforward outcome.

If anyone doubts the similarity, confirmation can be found in the fact that these left nationalists voted for the Tory-UKIP Brexit.  Whatever differences were inside their head never escaped it, even in order to abstain, never mind vote against.

Nothing has changed since the vote. These left nationalists have since failed to offer any alternative to the obvious shambles that has resulted from the decision they helped to make. Where are the left-wing pro-Brexit demonstrations? Where are all the meetings to welcome the great leap forward and discuss next steps?  Why is the left not marching in its own contingent from Sunderland to London as I write this blog?

If there’s a special place in hell for those who promoted Brexit without a plan, the supporters of Lexit have their own particular space already booked.  They are more invisible now than they were before the vote, in some cases attempting to hide behind the patently absurd pretence that what they voted for is not now really that important.

This, for example, is the argument of the most significant supporters of Brexit, which is wrapped around the leadership of the British Labour Party, whose alternative version of Brexit to Theresa May’s is not fundamentally different to her Withdrawal Agreement, including the ‘red lines’ she was forced to abandon.

These include inside the EU customs union while Britain can still negotiate its own trade deals, and participation in the Single Market but without acceptance of its most progressive feature – the free movement of people within the EU.  And the biggest lie of the lot – that you can have a ‘jobs Brexit’ and the left social democratic plans of a new Labour government can go ahead unaffected.

Unfortunately we do have the spectacle of a ‘left’ Labour leadership opposing the free movement of people.  If some supporters of Lexit were forced to sit at a typewriter and type ‘we must oppose the free movement of people’ endlessly, like a Jack Nicholson character in ‘The Shining,’ it would not be surprise if they still failed to register just how utterly reactionary this is.

Strip away the stock left phrases and the argument of the left supporters of Brexit is essentially the same as that of its right-wing custodians. Some cases are more obvious than others.  The example of the Communist Party of Ireland is one of the more obvious, which should not be a surprise, and this will be covered in the next two posts.

This is because it is Stalinism, the nationalist distortion of socialism and Marxism, that is the real political inspiration for left support for Brexit.  It turns out, as if it should really be any surprise, that the old debates by ‘dead Russians’ about the nature of socialism are neither obscure nor irrelevant.  And because they are not irrelevant, neither are the writings of Marx and Engels from whom those who defended the traditional internationalism of the socialist movement in these debates derived their ideas.

These writings include the ‘Communist Manifesto’ in which Marx enthusiastically acknowledges the development by capitalism of a world market, as the grounds upon which the working class created by this development could establish a new socialist society.  This development of capitalism created a new working class, which in turn created an industrial and political movement that was imbued with a confidence that they were on the side of history, a confidence that socialism was all but inevitable.

Do not fear the development of capitalism because it is creating its ‘grave diggers’.  Do not fear the dissolution of old barriers and restrictions, of old conventions and customs because these pave the way for a completely new set of human relationships.  Do not fear the socialisation of capital and the undermining of national divisions because on such processes an international class will be formed and an international movement of workers created.

Capitalism will again and again create a working class in its own image and the reflection that will stare back at it will be just as international in its politics and organisation. Giving birth to it will not be painless or easy, but then the creation of the new never is.  We should not however put ourselves in a position where the political right can point to us and ridicule us like Cameron did to Blair and say – ‘you used to be the future once’.

These views about the nature of socialism meant the movement looked forward not backwards and it is from these that it derived its confidence in its ultimate success, its hopes for the future and its positive programme of transformation. It is therefore not only from the defeats of the working class that the socialist movement lost this confidence, now long evaporated.  It will not come back for as long as the movement seeks only to retard capitalism, to limit it and tame it, or even to stymie it, strangle it or simply to smash it.

The left, as has been pointed out with glee by its opponents, has long been berated for being negative, for always knowing what it is against but not what it is for.  What it is for in a real sense, not empty phrases that are without content, without any practical or immediate application, or if they are real, are simply promises to return to a previous form of capitalism that failed to survive.

So the left is against austerity, against war, against inequality and discrimination.  But when it comes to positive answers the opposition to austerity turns out to involve expansion of the role of the capitalist state, its bureaucratic ownership of resources, and increased taxation of the rich, who unfortunately of course must stay rich in order to guarantee the revenues that feed this form of ‘socialism’.

Opposition to war involves pacifist illusions or support for those fighting imperialism no matter how reactionary they are, because they are ‘anti-imperialist’ – the ultimate end point of a programme defined by what you are against and not what you are for.

Opposition to inequality and discrimination meanwhile has for some now degenerated into identity politics where this negative identification of difference is primary and the grounds for any unity based on common interest is excluded by definition.

And within all this, support for Brexit fits in perfectly – opposition to the international development of capitalism but default support for increasingly outmoded and reactionary capitalist economic and political forms.  All the better for the attempt to recreate the old Keynesian accommodation with national capitalism.

The majority of workers sense what Brexit means, even if they do not have the political consciousness to understand it in the terms presented here.  They understand the backwardness of little England nationalism; they understand the growth or racism and xenophobia as true and authentic reflections of Brexit, and they understand that Brexit means turning their backs on the world in order to subordinate their hopes to narrow-minded nationalist myths.

EU flags fly in Remain demonstrations because the EU is the only political embodiment of a wider international vision they support and want to develop.  The international socialist movement on the other hand has long since submerged into nationalist islands that stand up for the interest of Irish workers, or British workers, or Scottish workers, or workers of the ‘global south’ – for the concerns of any group of workers except their true interest which can ultimately only be defined without national limitation or qualification.

Only in form can socialism be fought for within national terms, and even here this must be less and less the case in order for socialism to advance.  The existence of the EU is a reminder of such a requirement, which is why those who insist on national roads to socialism are unable to deal with it.

And because this purely negative opposition is without any positive content, the left supporters of Brexit are deaf, dumb and blind to the consequences of the no deal Brexit their position requires them to support – for they can hardly support a deal with the hated EU that the whole purpose of Brexit is to destroy.  Again and again the consequences of their decision is attributed to someone else – the Tories, the EU or just capitalism in general.

Key to this degeneration of the socialist movement was the defeat of the revolutionary wave that followed the First World War, itself a reflection of the continued vigour of capitalism, and especially the defeat of the Russian revolution.  From this defeat grew the ugly and deformed phenomenon of Stalinism and the nationalist distortion that was defined as socialism in one country and individual ‘national roads’ to socialism.

This is the history, and these are the conceptions, that lie behind left support for Brexit.  The appearance of a new generation of political consciousness, not necessarily only of young people, provides an opportunity to renew socialism on the internationalist grounds on which it once stood.  The last thing it needs is the dead hand of Stalinism suffocating it with defeated strategies and the promise of a future ‘socialism’, which oppressed millions of workers and which was decisively rejected by them when they got the chance.

This is therefore the importance of rejecting the left nationalism that stands behind support for Brexit and the Stalinism that has inspired it.

The Socialist Party and Brexit 3 – Brexit borders and workers’ unity

The Socialist Party has stated that “the unity of working class people is our over-riding priority and we oppose any moves which tend to weaken that unity.”  This post is about the extent to which this is evident in the party’s support for Brexit.

Unity of the working class is not a bad place to start, although in the context of the EU this should mean concern about the unity of workers across Europe.  However, it is in relation to the unity of Ireland’s workers that the Party shows most concern, and then mostly in relation to unity within the North.

The Party points to the potential for increased sectarian tension and division, particularly arising from the possibility of a harder border between North and South or a new one of sorts between Northern Ireland and Britain.

The requirement for a new border arises inevitably from the departure of the UK from the EU and from its Customs Union and Single Market.  The only way to avoid one would be to maintain membership of both and if this were the case it has been correctly argued that there would appear to be no reason to leave the EU in the first place.

Certainly, Socialist Party opposition to the Single Market means that there has to be a border somewhere. To claim otherwise is not only untrue but places the Party alongside the most extreme Tory Brexiteers and DUP, who currently make this absurd claim.  It is therefore not at all true that “any hardening of borders is unnecessary.”  In so far as the Party considers that its opposition to the EU is more fundamental than other supporters of Brexit, the necessity for a border is stronger.

The Party claims that “the Socialist Party will always oppose any deal which is agreed in the interests of capitalism.”  But since any conceivable deal will be in the interests of capitalism this amounts to opposition to any possible deal.  How could the Party expect the hated EU to negotiate any other sort of deal? Even a Corbyn led Government would not seek to negotiate a deal that went beyond the interests of capitalism.

The Party would then be compelled to oppose any Brexit deal, except of course where there was no deal to oppose.  But since no deal is the worst form of Brexit from the point of view of creating borders, not only has the Party’s support for Brexit created the border problem, its opposition to any conceivable deal also pushes it to oppose any deal that would reduce its scope and impact.

The Party is thus led to advocate the cause of the problem it seeks to oppose without any reasonable policy that would prevent or mitigate it.

The Socialist Party notes that “Northern Ireland voted against withdrawing from Europe in the 2016 referendum by 56% to 44%. There was a clear difference in attitudes between Catholics and Protestants: Catholics voted overwhelmingly to stay by a proportion of 85% to 15% while Protestants voted to leave by a proportion of 60% to 40%.”

The Party also notes that “many Catholics, in particular the young, voted for the EU because for them it represents their outward-looking and internationalist approach to the world. This is a positive impulse, shared by many of the young Protestants who voted remain.”

On the other hand, it notes that many Protestants oppose “any East-West border, no matter how minor, [which] has come to represent a threat to the union between Northern Ireland and Britain.”  This opposition is compared to unionist reaction to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 and to the “widespread disorder that broke out when a mere emblem of the “Britishness” of Northern Ireland – the union flag over the City Hall in Belfast – was removed.”  Since the latter was clearly a reactionary mobilisation in defence of a symbol of sectarian supremacy it is not explained why such opposition should be conciliated instead of resisted.

The Party believes that “if there is a perception in the coming months and years that the British identity of Northern Ireland is being diminished street protests and street violence cannot be ruled out”, and also seems to believe that this is a legitimate obstacle to be accommodated rather than opposed.  In relation to this, the Party is currently involved in a debate on identity politics, but this capitulation to a form of the most reactionary identity politics should form part of its debate.

The Party has noted that “many Catholics, in particular the young, voted for the EU because for them it represents their outward-looking and internationalist approach to the world. This is a positive impulse, shared by many of the young Protestants who voted remain.”

It would seem obvious then that one basis on which working class unity could be advanced would be to build upon this common view of Brexit, and the positive impulses that have arisen among young Protestants and Catholics.  This certainly looks an infinitely more promising route than trying to build on a Brexit-supporting opposition based on sectarian identity, which has found previous expression in sectarian flag-waving.

Of course, support for Brexit blinds the Socialist Party to this possibility, and even if it didn’t, the Party could not contribute to advancing this potential because it believes that these young people are wrong.  But how does it think it will unite workers on the basis of Brexit?  This is the key question the Party has to answer but it has not even asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit and the Good Friday Agreement 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is not therefore exluded that no deal will happen.

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

I don’t believe this to be true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to be continued

Brexit – stop digging!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This seems to me to be obviously wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you start with such nonsense?

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

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

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