O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!

Image result for corbyn at tuc conference 2019

Yesterday I came across a discussion on Radio 4 between a former advisor to Jeremy Corbyn and a Liberal Democrat MP, centred mainly on their Parties’ prospects in a general election.  The advisor seemed shocked at the radical nature of the suggestion that Article 50 be revoked, although many of then millions against Brexit might approve.  He argued that putting the two options in a referendum of a credible Brexit deal (negotiated by Labour) and Remain would appeal to both Leavers and Remainers.

If they could bottle such stupidity Hollywood would make a film starring Bruce Willis or Tom Cruise ,whose mission – should they choose to accept it – would be to prevent the bottle being broken by terrorists, so releasing the deadly stupidity virus among the whole population.

A majority of leavers want to leave with no deal, so either have no idea or don’t care about the damage that Brexit will do.  Most Leavers just want it over with and certainly don’t want any further delay.  They aren’t going to vote for Labour and another referendum, as far as they’re concerned they’ve already voted and they don’t see the need to do it again.

On the other side of the fence there aren’t millions of Remainers hoping that Corbyn will negotiate his own Brexit deal.  They don’t want any sort of Brexit deal, ‘credible’ or not.   Many Labour voters who support Remain, who are the vast majority of Labour voters, have tried repeatedly to tell Corbyn that the Party should oppose Brexit, not come up with its own version.  Many of them voted Liberal Democrat and Green in the European elections in May, and in a recent opinion poll in early September almost one in five who voted Labour in the 2017 general election said they will still vote Liberal Democrat in the next one.

They no longer trust Corbyn, who spent weeks trying to see if Theresa May’s deal could be supported, and it doesn’t matter from the point of view of honesty if this was sincere or not. The party bureaucracy prevented debate on Brexit by the members at one party conference and at the next disingenuously had a motion put together that appeared to move to an anti-Brexit stance but allowed him to continue to propose a Labour Brexit, while the sound of silence hung over whether the Party would then support it.

Even after the drubbings in the European and local elections and the shift he seemed to make in an anti-Brexit direction, the speech by Corbyn to the TUC conference this week makes plain that a Labour negotiated Brexit deal is still central.  And no one can be sure he wouldn’t do the entirely logical thing and support any Brexit deal he had just negotiated.  He still thinks that there is a good ‘jobs’ Brexit out there so why wouldn’t he?  And why then would Remainers see this as a possible way forward except out of sheer desperation?

The proposal to put a ‘credible’ Brexit and Remain option to a referendum will not attract Leavers and Remainers but will raise the hackles of both and particularly of many previous loyal Labour voters. There isn’t a shortage of reasons to oppose this Corbyn policy even without its awful electoral implications.

There is no such thing as a good Brexit, either left or right.  The thinking behind a left one is that the British  state, unencumbered by EU rules, will build a strong and prosperous social democratic society.  But this forgets that the foundation of any society is a strong productive base and this base will be dramatically weakened by Brexit, as trade is disrupted and reduced, and investment flows out of Britain and away from it as a possible destination.

The Stalinist inspiration for this in the form of ‘socialism in one country’ is obvious, personified by some of Corbyn’s advisors, but the inspiration from some so-called Trotskyists arises from their belief that advances by the working class, telescoped into the idea of near term political revolution, will arise from capitalist crisis, which shall compel workers to adopt their crisis programme.  It’s the advanced country version of ‘year zero’ in which it doesn’t really matter the state of society the revolutionary party on top of the new state takes over, all the ideas of Marx about the primacy of the productive forces and relations is just so much theory, to be discussed academically by the academics who lead some of these organisations.  Internationalism is a word, a long word that appears to hover a long way from practical politics and is simply a moral value free from the capitalist society from which it must spring.

What this means for Corbyn’s credible Brexit alternative is that it isn’t at all credible.  His previous idea of all the benefits of membership of the Single Market and customs union, while having a say in these without EU membership; plus making independent trade deals and exclusion from free movement are delusional.  The EU could not possibly agree to these proposals, which means his ‘credible’ alternative is completely uncredible.

The idea that he would negotiate a Brexit that could only be worse for workers and a Remain option as two valid choices has invited justified incredulity.  Why would the Labour Party invite workers to choose between their Brexit deal and Remain if it didn’t think its Brexit was any good?  In such circumstances it could only mean Labour support for Brexit.

The idea that you could get this policy adopted could only be entertained when you rely on the membership not being able to stop you, and this means betraying the promise of democratising the Party.  For Corbyn and his advisors, it appears that the Party will shift left through left control of the apparatus and decision making from above, as the Stalinist school of socialism inspires wider application.

This plus all the strangulation about Labour’s Brexit policy means that Corbyn himself more and more lacks credibility, itself a consequence of setting himself up as a politician particularly defined by his honesty, demonstrated by his history of principled stands for ‘unpopular’ causes. He is now rated less trustworthy than the well-known liar Johnson, blowing up the idea that Brexit policy could be quarantined from other economic policy.

In the words of the Scots poet Rabbie Burns –

O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!

In the Radio 4 interview the recent Labour advisor stated that Labour would not be looking for EU membership should Britain leave, with no qualification that I could hear.  Why would Remain Labour supporters sign up to that?

Now it is argued that Corbyn is right to allow the party to take a ‘neutral’ position, just as Harold Wilson did during the 1975 referendum.

Apart from Wilson hardly being a left-wing hero of the Labour Party, this ignores the fact that we have already had the referendum and the time for any sort of neutrality is long gone. Just like Wilson’s ‘renegotiation’ of the terms of membership, Corbyn’s proposed renegotiation of Brexit is a cover for support for whatever come out of the negotiation – there is no point otherwise.

Expecting Corbyn to see the light is therefore a forlorn hope.  If getting less than 15% in a national vote doesn’t get the message through it’s difficult to see what would.  Only the membership in the Party conference can change policy for the next election and that is what it must do.

Fighting Fire with Fire

According to one piece of commentary in ‘The Guardian’, the utterly brilliant Svengali behind Boris Johnson knows that people are fed up with Brexit and confused by all the shenanigans at Westminster.  They just want it done and will lap up the grand promises of an end to austerity announced by Johnson’s new Government – new police, new teachers and more money for the NHS.  The opposition will bang on about Brexit, but Johnson knows that people are fed up with Brexit and confused by all the opposition intrigues at Westminster.

Since there is going to be a general election soon, whatever uncertainty exists about its timing, the Johnson plan is clear in this respect, and according to the psephologist John Curtice, with an average nine point lead in the polls, he has a 50/50 chance of winning. Perhaps only if he was forced by the opposition to request an extension to Article 50 from the European Union would he lose so much credibility that he would be sunk.

The concern of the opposition has been that if Labour supported an election now Johnson would ensure it was held after 31 October, allowing the UK to fall out of the EU without a deal.  This means postponing an election until either the requirement for Johnson to ask for an extension has passed into law or has come into effect.

It appears fairly clear to more and more observers however that Johnson intends to keep to his pledge not to request such an extension by simply refusing to ask for one and/or resigning as prime minister and asking the fractured opposition to form an alternative Government. At this point we would get into everyone telling Jeremy Corbyn that he couldn’t possibly head-up any even temporary administration and a list of right wing figures would be put up as the ‘unifying’ leader. If such a proposal was accepted Corbyn would be finished and the Labour right would be as quick as Johnson to get rid of its opposition inside the Party.

In this case only the EU could do anything about the UK leaving and without domestic cover this would be difficult to justify, and for whom and to what end would it do it?

Seemingly trapped by Parliamentary arithmetic and arcane procedure, Johnson has a way out by ignoring both.  Trapped by Parliamentary arithmetic and arcane procedure the radical Jeremy Corbyn has become a prisoner of it.  Any route to a general election appears to allow Johnson to remain as the leader of the no-deal cause, unsullied by compromise, and achieve a no-deal exit. Were Corbyn to win leadership of a caretaker Government the issue is simply postponed but with Johnson still running with the same narrative and an election not very far off.

So the argument has been when Labour should agree to an election.  Should it do so as soon as possible so that it would have the chance to put an alternative to no-deal to the people and win a majority to reject it, or afterwards when it will be too late, and Johnson had resigned and Corbyn perhaps left with insufficient votes to form a Government and/or been displaced as a result? All other things being equal the principled and correct thing to do would be to agree an election as soon as possible.

Of course it is still argued that Johnson will ensure that an election called now takes place after the default no-deal exit kicks in, so the call for it has to be postponed.  But if it is postponed and Johnson later resigns, successfully exposing the divided nature of the opposition then Johnson will have successfully guided a no deal Brexit anyway.  If unsuccessful an election can’t be far away as the opposition is deeply divide and is really mostly in competition with each other.

The answer to his sharp practice is not to rely on cute Parliamentary stratagems (that can foreseeably be nullified) but rely on our own strength as an organised movement with the clear sympathy of the majority of the population.  How we get this majority to be part of the struggle is therefore the question that needs answers.

In the longer term of course Brexit will be shown to be disastrous and undiluted Tory responsibility for it is a very good thing.  The danger involved in this is the success that a no-deal might achieve in destroying workers’ rights and living standards while it lasts.  But again this argues for the mobilisation and organisation of the British labour movement and working class more generally, not parliamentary manoeuvring.  It also requires commitment by Labour to reverse Article 50 as quickly as possible, and there is no reason why this should not be argued for now, showing that there is a way out of this mess no matter what Johnson does.

So if Johnson can steer a no deal, or have a very good chance of doing so, no matter what parliamentary options are taken, and the only way to ensure he is stopped is through an alternative Government saying he will be stopped no matter when he calls it, the only option that appears to make sense is to allow an election as soon as possible and make Johnson (instead of Corbyn) the target of the charge of being slippery, duplicitous and cowardly if he tries to shift its date until after October 31. ‘We will reverse the decision to leave the EU as soon as we can’ should be the Labour response, otherwise any Labour Government after a no-deal Brexit will have to preside over the disaster and take responsibility for the inadequate steps to mitigate the mess.

Had Labour strongly opposed Brexit for the last three years by pointing out that the demands of the Tories were impossible to achieve, it would have been proved correct over and over again.  Instead the argument that there was a ‘good’ Brexit allowed chancer after chancer from Farage to May to Johnson to claim that they could do it.  On the other side the Liberals and others could quite rightly say that there is no good Brexit and Labour is putting itself in the way of stopping it.  The most useless Tory Prime Ministers and most incompetent Governments have failed even on their own terms, yet have their Party ahead of Labour in the polls, and that despite the Brexit party!

From being ridiculed as an ineffective, if sincere, leader and a straight talking ‘un-politician like’ politician, Corbyn’s disingenuous contortions on Brexit mean he is now more plausibly ridiculed as an ineffective,if sincere,leader and a mealy-mouthed triangulating ‘typical’ politician.  The new and fresh approach that blazed a trail in the 2017 election and up-ended the opinion polls isn’t possible now, or at least not in the way it was achieved last time.

This is true mainly because of Corbyn’s current hopeless position on Brexit, which promises an extension to the exit deadline and a second referendum with a Remain option on the ballot but also leaves open the possibility of him trying to get a new Brexit deal.  In other words, repeating Theresa May’s attempt to negotiate a deal with red lines that can’t be negotiated and objectives which no Brexit can deliver e.g. a ‘jobs’ Brexit.

Johnson’s promises of an end to austerity also mean it’s not possible to place Labour anti-austerity against years of Tory cuts in the same way.  Of course the Tories may be lying but the Brexit supporters that are his base are happy to sign up to these lies because they sustain the illusion that Brexit is a good thing.  They do indeed want to forget about Brexit and just get it done because thinking about it is not conducive to sustaining their prejudices and illusions.  Voting for more money for public services promised by a Johnson Government is just the sort of message that is consistent with their prejudices and illusions.

Labour may offer greater public spending increases and question the sincerity of Johnson’s promises but if he looks like he’s delivering on a no-deal – out by the 31 October no matter what – then he might have enough credibility with enough people.  The most obvious problem with the Tory U-turn on austerity is that Brexit will so damage the source of funding for increased state expenditure that you can’t do both.  But this brings us back to Brexit as the key issue and the necessity for a clear message.

Labour has a lot going for it, including the incompetence and lack of credibility of the opposition among a majority of the electorate.  A very large majority is also against no deal so why not have an election before it has happened to capture this constituency? This, however, requires a clear and consistent message of unqualified opposition to Brexit, and consistency is also a function of time, time more than wasted by Corbyn’s support for a ‘jobs’ Brexit.

As in all elections the Tories have and will mobilise its own support – especially in the press – and will be unified around the Johnson project.  Corbyn, on the other hand is surrounded by enemies and leads a divided party.  He has had four years to democratise the Party and get rid of the treacherous right wing MPs and failed to do so.

The biggest advantage the Party has is that it is the political arm of a movement with millions of members including 500,000 members of the Party, but they have been given no role to change the Party into an activist movement. The millions who have marched against Brexit could have had Corbyn leading them but he chose to offer something else that satisfied neither Leavers nor Remainers.  Even the anti-coup protests take place without clear leadership from the top.

That Corbyn has had potentially so much going for him but has spurned it means that much hope of preventing Johnson relies in the latter’s incompetence and the hope that the now Remain majority, and bigger majority against no-deal, will unify around Labour despite its Brexit stance, which may harden, although in what direction? Elections can polarise opinions and the political messages from the parties in response, and it is to be hoped that the mobilisation against the Johnson coup and against Brexit will swing those against Brexit behind Labour, but Corbyn has to look like he is ready to lead them where they want to go.

Resist this Very British Coup!

The decision by the British Conservative Government to prorogue parliament for five weeks is a dictatorial action openly contemptuous of democratic rights.  Its purpose is to impose an exit from the EU that has no mandate and has been enacted precisely because of this lack of support. This in turn has the purpose of imposing a hard-right assault on the social and political rights of the working class.

The declared justifications for this action by Tory MPs have demonstrated contempt for the very idea of democratic debate.  They have torn away the pompous cant about parliamentary democracy through which the British ruling class and its establishment has imposed its rule.  As one previous Tory leader said – ‘There are things stronger than parliamentary majorities.’

However, while it is one thing to govern and dictate with rules, it is quite another to assert this dominance by brazenly breaking them.  That the British constitution is famously an unwritten one does not change this aspect – not for nothing has this action been called a ‘constitutional outrage’.

Of course, those making this claim are concerned that the essential sham that is parliamentary democracy might be exposed as dispensable when it suits any particular governing clique, which is why they also show more concern for the position of the Queen than for the vast majority of the people who will suffer the consequences.  Far from excusing her role in sanctioning this dictatorial manoeuvre as the ‘only thing she could do’, – simply following established precedent – it exposes her as an integral part of this dictatorial measure.

The suspension of parliamentary accountability raises questions for the legitimacy of this action in a particular way for those living in the North of Ireland and Scotland, who voted by a significant majority against Brexit and who would undoubtedly have voted even more heavily against it had it been presented as leaving with no deal.

While Scotland has its own parliament, the willing or unwilling subjects of British rule in Ireland have more reason to fear the dictatorial intentions of British governments than anyone.  After all, it was in relation to Ireland that Tory leader Bonar Law made the statement quoted above, threatening force against the democratic decisions of the Irish people.

A Tory government inclined to such measures and allied to the reactionary bigots of the DUP might be emboldened to further measures.  Despite the growing awareness of just how damaging Brexit will be, and a no deal Brexit even more so, both the Tory Brexiteers and DUP have doubled down on their support for it.  Having done so, and if they do go ahead with it, they can only be tempted to indulge in further measures to defend their decision and repress opposition.

No deal means a hard border, which will impose severe economic damage especially in the North, but also damage and disruption in the South.  The undemocratic imposition of Brexit is therefore an issue facing all of Ireland and all Irish workers.

There have been calls on the left in Britain for demonstrations and strike action to push back on this ‘very British coup’ and workers in and outside trade unions in the North should join in these actions.

Those socialists opposed to Brexit should seek to unite and create an internationalist and socialist campaign that can explain why Brexit should be opposed and this latest move resisted.  Such a campaign would seek to support the action of workers and socialists in Britain. The impact on the rest of Ireland provides the grounds for further solidarity action by workers in the rest of the island who oppose a hard border and the damage Brexit will do to their own position.  Irish workers North and South should stand together to oppose this attack on democracy that will directly impact on all of them.

On a minor note – it might not even be too late for those left supporters of Brexit to wake up and accept that their support for this radically reactionary project should be dumped and Brexit and all it contains opposed.

Brexit Socialism

The left argument for Brexit starts and ends with the observation that the EU is a capitalist construct devoted to neoliberalism.  The British State must free itself from it so British workers can use it to their benefit.

That this is a nationalist project is obvious, since it prioritises national sovereignty and the freedom of the British state over the sovereignty and freedom of the working class. In this view the sovereignty of the British capitalist state is the mechanism to advance and achieve the interests of British workers.

‘We’ must reclaim our nation in the form of the freedom of ‘our’ state even when, as socialists, we are not supposed to let nationality define our politics, or regard as ‘ours’ a state that is the instrument of capitalist rule.  But unfortunately the Brexit illusion is not uncommon within organisations that describe themselves as Marxist, an illusion applying equally to support for Scottish nationalism and ‘our’ prospective free Scottish state.

In this approach only the interests of British workers are considered (or Scottish, when it comes to creating a new Scottish capitalist state), which is why exiting the EU is advanced rather than any reform to it, or even any international campaign to achieve referendums across the EU seeking similar leave votes in France, Slovenia, Finland etc.

The organisations in Britain supporting Brexit have been careful not to trumpet and advance this agenda in Ireland because of its unpopularity.  Of course, in demanding a deep Brexit and no hard border within Ireland, they are effectively demanding that the Irish State significantly remove itself from the EU, without acknowledging it and without having to openly and honestly argue for it amongst the Irish people.

The problem for any such pan-European campaign isn’t that it would fail, and would garner support mainly from the extreme nationalist right – so exposing even further the primary source of support for Brexit in the UK. The more embarrassing problem would arise from success.  Because if such a campaign of mobilisation of a united working class across Europe were successful there would be no excuse for Brexit, or any other exit.  The task would so obviously be to reform and transform the EU by strengthening the political and organisational unity of Europe’s working class.  Returning to local nationalist designs would be seen for what they are and narrow projects for national sovereignty would be toast.

Lenin took up similar arguments in ‘The National Question in Our Programme’ when he argued against the Polish Socialist Party position on the separation of Polish socialists from others in the empire ruled by Tsarism, and on the question of separation generally. The Polish Party, he says, believes that the Party “can only weaken tsarism by wresting Poland from it; it is the task of the Russian comrades to overthrow it.”  In doing so Lenin unfavourably compared the increasing unity of the capitalist class internationally with the weakening of the unity of the working class through separation of its national components

British left supporters of Brexit in effect take the same approach, and in their opposition to the EU seek not to overthrow it or reform it or transform it, but simply to walk away from it, with the vacuous claim that they are offering an example to the rest of Europe.  In fact, as we have seen, Europe’s workers have looked on in bemusement at the mess that Brexit has created and viewed the threats of a dumbed down society it promises as a warning not to do it themselves. Far from encouraging the break-up of the EU the experience of Brexit has confirmed the necessity to counter the unity of Europe’s capitalist class with increasing the unity of Europe’s working class.

Lenin makes a similar point in relation to the Jewish socialist organisation – the Bund – and does not accept the existing weakness of working class unity as an alibi to weaken it further:

“What we have said on the Polish question is wholly applicable to every other national question. The accursed history of autocracy has left us a legacy of tremendous estrangement between the working classes of the various nationalities oppressed by that autocracy. This estrangement is a very great evil, a very great obstacle in the struggle against the autocracy, and we must not legitimise this evil or sanctify this outrageous state of affairs by establishing any such “principles” as separate parties or a “federation” of parties. It is, of course, simpler and easier to follow the line of least resistance, and for everyone to make himself comfortable in his own corner following the rule, “it’s none of my business,” as the Bund now wants to do. The more we realise the need for unity and the more firmly we are convinced that a concerted offensive against the autocracy is impossible without complete unity, the more obvious becomes the necessity for a centralised organisation of the struggle in the conditions of our political system—the less inclined are we to be satisfied with a “simple,” but specious and, at bottom, profoundly false solution of the problem.”

The primacy of the international unity of the working class is made very clear:

“As the party of the proletariat, the Social-Democratic Party considers it to be its positive and principal task to further the self-determination of the proletariat in each nationality rather than that of peoples or nations. We must always and unreservedly work for the very closest unity of the proletariat of all nationalities, and it is only in isolated and exceptional cases that we can advance and actively support demands conducive to the establishment of a new class state or to the substitution of a looser federal unity, etc., for the complete political unity of a state.”

In a separate article – “Corrupting the Workers with refined Nationalism” – the requirement for the unity of the working class and its organisations is stated clearly:

“The class-conscious workers fight hard against every kind of nationalism, both the crude, violent, Black-Hundred nationalism, and that most refined nationalism which preaches the equality of nations together with … the splitting up of the workers’ cause, the workers’ organisations and the working-class movement according to nationality. Unlike all the varieties of the nationalist bourgeoisie, the class conscious workers, carrying out the decisions of the recent (summer 1913) conference of the Marxists, stand, not only for the most complete, consistent and fully applied equality of nations and languages, but also for the amalgamation of the workers of the different nationalities in united proletarian organisations of every kind.”

Brexit provides no rationale for the unity Lenin sought, and as we noted, is not even considered by its left supporters as a means of trying to unite across countries to reverse the internationalisation of capital that is the purpose of the EU, which anyway would also be wrong.  The complete escapism of Brexit explains the failure of both its right and left supporters to have the least realistic or practical plan how to implement their chosen vision, and especially how to deal with increased national isolation Brexit must inevitably bring. Slogans are all that are provided, with a blind faith in the power of the British State to fashion a new society.  The vision is so backward it is reactionary not only from the standpoint of the working class but also from the point of view of the development of capitalism.

It is understandable that some sincere socialists might follow the political line of the Brexit supporting organisations that they are either members or supporters of; or that there are those who can’t otherwise explain the fact that the small left organisations are mostly in support of it.  But there is nothing very new about such reactionary socialism and it has been contested right from the start of our movement.  As Marx said in ‘The Communist Manifesto’, such reactionary ideas arise again and again on the basis of the petty bourgeois class from which they emanate.

He identified three forms of such reactionary socialism which exhibited properties that are today expressed in left support for Brexit.  These included petty-bourgeois socialism:

“In its positive aims, however, this form of Socialism aspires either to restoring the old means of production and of exchange, and with them the old property relations, and the old society, or to cramping the modern means of production and of exchange within the framework of the old property relations that have been, and were bound to be, exploded by those means. In either case, it is both reactionary and Utopian.” (Emphasis added – SM)

Of ‘True Socialism’ it is noted that “It proclaimed the German nation to be the model nation, and the German petty Philistine to be the typical man. To every villainous meanness of this model man, it gave a hidden, higher, Socialistic interpretation, the exact contrary of its real character.”

So, for both right and left supporters of Brexit, Britain will bring a new internationalism to the world in the shape of either globalised free markets or a socialist British State. Replace German with British and one has replicated Marx’s caustic remarks in relation to this latest manifestation in Brexit socialism.  As before, a “Socialistic interpretation” of this Brexit and its supporters are ”the exact contrary of its real character.”

‘The Communist Manifesto’ sets out the principles that still inform socialists today, even if some of his disciples seem determined to prove Lenin right when he declared that no one can discredit revolutionary socialism as long as it does not discredit itself. For Marx and Engels the first of the distinguishing hallmarks of such socialism is that “In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.”

We have seen that Brexit starts and ends with opposition to an expression of international capitalism and starts and ends with a form of national socialism, which because it is national is nothing to do with socialism.

Belfast meeting discusses Marxism and Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not about supporting Jeremy Corbyn anymore

The article below was written just before Jeremy Corbyn decided to enter ‘stupidest politician of the year competition’. Having seen Labour punished in two elections for supporting Brexit he has decided to reaffirm this support and again put on a very long finger the prospect of a second referendum, this time even ruling out Remain as an option.  In doing so showing as much contempt for democracy outside the Labour Party as he has shown for it inside, ignoring as he does the shift to a Remain majority.

Socialists should be clear that his position on the most vital question of the day is thoroughly reactionary. Most people can record this empirically through the leadership and support for Brexit coming from the right and far-right and through the growth of racism and general xenophobia that it has encouraged. Others have realised the damage it will do to the capitalist economy, also realising that such damage has nothing to do with creating a socialist alternative.

It is fundamentally reactionary because it seeks not to replace capitalism, as a reformist we would not expect that, but to make reforms to it through winding the clock back to a time when capitalism was essentially a national phenomenon, where there may have been a world market, but not world production.  Brexit, in fact, implies such a disruption and narrowing of trade that it seeks even to retreat from the world market never mind the international division of labour.

It seeks not to replace the capitalist state, again as a reformist we would not expect that, but to make more perfect the capitalist state that exists, a more perfect national state, without the international features that arise from the internationalisation of trade and production.  Worse, it is a belief that what international interaction that must exist can involve influencing international political arrangements but not being subject to any influences in return, which by necessity limit national policy making.

This is clearest in Corbyn’s idea that Britain can be in a customs union and wider trading arrangements within the EU, and have a say in its policy, but not be a member, with all the obligations this entails.  It is also clear from his opposition to free movement of people and belief that socialism will come to Britain by its own state, and not by the actions of the working class, which cannot ultimately be defined or limited by nationality.

Brexit thus has to compress the productive forces that have spread across the world into a purely national framework that they long ago burst asunder, within a declining nation and its weakening economy.  This project can therefore only fail and fail so badly that it will not get past the first engagement with the EU.  Britain can no longer determine the terms of its interaction with the rest of the world, which is why it only makes sense from the right-wing reactionary point of view that somehow Britain is still or will become a world power again, or Empire 2.0 as it has been dubbed.

It is reactionary because it attempts to change the world by taking capitalism backwards, not build on its growth, development and achievements.  Any such attempt, if it were successful, would produce the monstrosities of Stalinism that came into being during the twentieth century.  But of course, it won’t even get that far.  Even the attempt to go back to the national stage of capitalism championed by the reactionary right cannot succeed, because capitalism will not go backwards, unless it transforms itself/is transformed into something else entirely.

Socialism will be built upon the creations of capitalism and its highest developments, not its earliest and most primitive forms.  Only a fully developed, educated and cultured working class can build a socialist society, which depends on it being an international class, and this in turn depends on the international development of capitalism itself.  There is not, and cannot be, an international working class without an international capitalism from which it arises.

This is what is truly reactionary about any idea of socialism that seeks to retard capitalism and turn it back from its international development – it sets back and subverts the only possible source of socialism.

*         *            *

“Let the people decide the country’s future, either in a general election or through a public vote on any deal agreed by parliament. For Labour any outcome has to work for our whole country, not just one side of this deliberately inflamed divide.”

So said Jeremy Corbyn after the disastrous European election results.  It’s his version of Theresa May’s “nothing has changed” – the world changes dramatically, but their view of it is frozen.

Which isn’t necessarily a problem if your view of the world is correct, if it has understood the change and determined correctly the course of action. Theresa May’s “nothing has changed” came to reflect her inability to get a Brexit that fulfilled the impossible promises of Brexit with the only deal she could negotiate.  She only said it once, but sometimes once is more than enough.

And now Jeremy Corbyn continues to proclaim that he wants an outcome that works for everyone – Leavers and Remainers – as thoroughly dishonest as Theresa May’s version because it’s Brexit with similar impossible promises as her’s.  In his case, it’s a policy that opinion polls show must ignore the wider and stronger identification people have with Remain and Leave than with Labour and Tory, so that hoping to rely on the latter to over-ride the former just won’t work.

And we know it won’t work because we have had local elections and now European elections that reveal the collapse of the Tory and shredding of the Labour vote.  But still we get the Corbyn meme that Labour policy must work for everyone.  He fails to appreciate that Brexit is a policy for the (very) Few and not the Many. And that millions of Labour voters didn’t vote for the Party, or voted for the Liberal Democrats, Greens, Plaid Cymru and SNP.  After all, they have a range on Remainer choices.  Only a much smaller number voted for the Brexit Party, which shows the reactionary character of the policy Corbyn clings to

It is claimed that a general election will be different because the Tories will be offering a hard Brexit and Labour supporters will be compelled to vote against them.  There are so many things wrong with this it’s hard to say what is the most important.  A ‘Corbyn’ transformation based on no more than hatred of the Tories?  A vote against a Tory no-deal Brexit which would mean supporting another Brexit prospectus based on the same impossible conditions that led to a withdrawal deal so pointless it led to support for no deal – in other words a vote for a Labour Brexit that has nowhere to go but the same dead end that May ended up in? And all those voters will be won back to gain a Labour majority when Labour is 5th in Scotland, third in Wales and down to 14%?

The Tories only need a new leader promising Brexit, with a bit more credibility, to have a hope of some recovery, and they’re electing one.  And if they fall short it will not be because Labour has surged forward but because Farage has managed to carry forward his success into a general election.  And how would this be a success?

Brexit will still be the issue in a general election.

It is also claimed that Labour’s message was confusing, but Corbyn’s policy of attempting to cover-up policy by process was supposed to be confusing.  Except most people are not confused – they understandd perfectly well that his policy is to support Brexit.  You can’t repeat “respect the referendum result”, put forward your own Brexit ‘plan’ and spend weeks negotiating with the Tories to get a joint Brexit without revealing that you support Brexit.

Now there is a debate raging about whether the Party should support a Peoples Vote.  But the majority of Labour supporters of a ‘Peoples Vote’ only want it to stop Brexit.  It’s not about a referendum – if Labour supported some version of Brexit to be approved by a referendum Corbyn would be politically as dead as a Monty Python parrot. On the other had, If the Labour Party had vigorously opposed Brexit the march of 1 million people would have been demanding a general election and a Labour Government.  Instead it was led by Liberals who were allowed to come back from the dead and Chukka who is now irrelevant.  The real leader of that demonstration was missing, so no wonder so many on it kept on walking into the polling booth and will continue to do so, ignoring him as he ignored them.

The increasingly delusional and rancid nature of Brexit statements by supporters on the left reveal the growing contradiction between its claims about the progressive character of Brexit and the more and more obvious reality.  From being a necessary break from neoliberalism they went on to claim that it really wasn’t that important after all, to some now saying that Corbyn’s problem is that he isn’t Brexit enough.  They seem utterly oblivious to the fact that this trajectory of supporting Brexit (without a clue as to how it could happen), to support for the most extreme version, is exactly the same as the right-wing leadership of the movement they are so obviously trailing behind.

A similar process is now underway inside the Party, with the Brexit supporters more and more exposed as their ‘confusion’ becomes less confusing and the disastrous results of their policy bears fruit.  The latest article in ‘The Guardian’ is but one more example.

Inside it Ian Lavery, the Party chair, puts together an article less rancid than the Stalinist nonsense in ‘The Morning Star’ but every bit as delusional and misleading.

“Our duty is to heal rifts, not exacerbate them”, he starts, as he surveys the failure.

“Polls in the run-up to the European elections showed that voters did not understand Labour’s position on Brexit. Conference had voted to leave all options on the table to stop a destructive Tory Brexit and our position has been fairly straightforward.” So all options were on the table and this is straightforward?

We are told that “Labourlost voters in all directions and polling appears to show middle-class voters moving to the Lib Dems and Greens, with working-class people moving to the Brexit party.” A repeat of the nonsense that the working class voted Brexit and the middle class Remain – a middle class that is getting bigger by the day it would appear.

He claims that he “has opposed a so-called public vote, not least because parliament has no majority for it in principle and nobody has the faintest idea what we would actually put on the ballot,” although I think most Remain supporters would be able to help him with the wording.

“It does feel that a certain portion of “leftwing intellectuals” are sneering at ordinary people and piling on those trying to convey the feelings of hundreds of thousands of Labour voters. Perhaps, in reflecting on the results, we should consider the effect all of this has had.”  So, it’s ‘not my fault guv’nor’ – it’s those intellectuals, who, like the middle class, seem to have developed extraordinary powers.

“We’d do well to remember that Labour is an internationalist party of social and economic justice”, says the advocate of the policy of national isolation – called ‘sovereignty’; restriction on freedom of movement and a British road to social democracy.

“We cannot win a general election by simply fighting for the biggest share of 48% and, while some polling data suggests more people left Labour for the Greens and the Lib Dems, it is equally concerning to see leakage to the Brexit”, says he who thinks the percentage of the Labour vote going to the Brexit Party is the same as that going to Remain parties.

It reminds me of the Paul Merton joke on ‘Have I got News for You’, who proclaimed concern for the ‘ho’s’ when Czechoslovakia split between the Czechs and Slovaks.  His policy must presumably be to go for the 0% who don’t give a f***.

“The reason we are in this mess is because those in government who engineered the original referendum had no idea what to do if they lost” – as if it was the Tories responsibility not to shred the Labour vote.

“Polling expert Professor John Curtice has lambasted the People’s Vote campaign because of its failure to attract any significant support from the leave side of the argument”, he says, except when you go to the link the Professor doesn’t lambast the People’s Vote campaign.

But, it is, as they say, a poor book from which you can learn nothing, and Lavery manages to say something very true: “Given that it is associated almost entirely with the remain campaign, it does raise the question as to why its proponents don’t simply issue a call to remain . . .”, which is of course correct.

As I have said, the only point of another referendum for the large majority of Labour activists, members and voters is to prevent Brexit.  Lavery tells us that we are headed for a no-deal but he is mainly concerned simply to accept it – “For some, the prospect of no deal is too frightening to countenance, but we need to be prepared for what is an ever growing threat.”

“If we do crash out on 31 October some on the right will be eager to exploit their newfound freedom to roll back protections in the workplace, exploit the environment and enrich themselves. We need to be united and ready to rally the entire Labour movement and all progressive forces in the country against this.  If the Tories do take us over the edge, we must be ready to spell out what a Labour future for our country looks like outside of the EU.”

He doesn’t explain why such freedom should be given to them and why therefore we shouldn’t campaign against their reactionary project by opposing Brexit altogether.  It would therefore be good if he could actually explain what a Labour country would look like outside the EU, after a fall in the value of the currency; capital flight; drop in new investment; disruption to trade and its consequent reduction in jobs and incomes.

Perhaps he believes that the British State, which alone seems to be potentially uniquely progressive (or why leave all the other capitalist states in the EU?), will start making cars made only in Britain and all the other goods that cannot be made in the UK.  Perhaps he believes that having blamed foreigners for the austerity and inequality he can then turn round and reject charges that it is immigrants and non-whites who are still the problem for the greater austerity and inequality that must follow Brexit.

The real consequences of Brexit, and not delusions about what might happen, are what has led a majority to now oppose Brexit.  The elections now confirm opinion polls and other evidence such as the enormous demonstrations and the petition of six million.

Politics isn’t about forgiveness.  As Corbyn seeks to continue his dissembling support for Brexit the membership cannot afford to wait to give, or withhold forgiveness.  It’s time to change party policy to complete opposition to Brexit, and if Corbyn gets in the way that’s his problem.

Brexit and the far right

I’ve read a number of articles saying that the major issue facing British workers is the rise of the far-right, appearing now in the shape either of Nigel Farage and his new Brexit Party or the racists and fascists around Tommy Robinson.  The answer to this is usually suggested to be a united campaign by socialists opposing racism and the fascists.

I don’t believe this to be the case – the major issue is, and has been, opposition to Brexit and the continuing effort to implement it.  It is Brexit that has rallied the reactionaries, given them a real success through the referendum and emboldened them to make more and more explicit threats as to what will happen if Brexit isn’t implemented.

In this respect these forces are no different from the increasingly bitter Tories and the unorganised bigots who have felt free to express their long-held racism through verbal and physical attacks.  The combined forces of these reactionaries mustered only a few thousand outside Parliament, while the anti-Brexit demonstration counted over a million.  It should therefore be clear that the major impact of a defeat for Brexit would not be the excitement of the reactionaries to greater fury but imposition of a crushing defeat.

Some of the supporters of the idea that the racists and fascists are the issue are those who have assisted these forces by supporting Brexit themselves, which can only disorient their supporters, give some legitimacy to the reactionaries’ cause and, not least, import their nationalism into the workers’ movement.  The latest example is the statement by George Galloway that he will vote for Farage’s Brexit Party.

Thus, an additional impact is the proposal of the mistaken orientation that the major task is to oppose the racists and fascists.  These forces have greater visibility and impact because their chauvinism is the most extreme form of the nationalism that lies behind the whole Brexit project.  It is therefore easy to sell it as the only real and authentic version.  They thus have a cause they can claim has been legitimised by popular vote.

The standard response of left organisations is to seek the widest unity, irrespective of what are claimed to be secondary issues, to confront the racists and fascists on the streets.  However, by consciously evading Brexit they even weaken their own misdirected strategy.

And they do this by ignoring the real issue.  They surrender legitimacy to the cause of which the reactionaries claim to be the true defenders.  They have purely negative arguments to the positive (however reactionary) cause that the reactionaries put forward, and they are defenceless against their claims to be the real democrats.  The key task is blurred, if not ditched, by thinking that unity with the Brexit supporting left will address the problems that Brexit has itself aggravated immensely.

Above all, it seriously underestimates the significance of the anti-working class attack that the Brexit project involves.  Its implementation would see rapid attacks on the rights and living standards of British workers and increased racist attacks by the State and street thugs.  Even if you thought increased xenophobia and racism by the far right was the major problem, the only way to prevent it getting worse, and actually reverse it, would be stop Brexit in its tracks.

But recognising Brexit as the issue leads to other conclusions.  At the moment the main effort to push some sort of Brexit that can be implemented includes the leadership of the Labour Party.  Despite hopes that this leadership would lead the Party to create a social movement that fully involves its members, the Labour leadership has shown that old-Labour politics of the left doesn’t have much more regard for democracy than the politics of the new-Labour right.

The task after Corbyn was elected was to democratise the Party and this remains the case.  To do so means fighting Brexit and implementing the overwhelming view of the Party’s members and supporters that it should be scrapped.  Such has been the decades of reaction that many seem not to want to carry out this task as vigorously as is required, perhaps because they have bought into Corbyn as much, if not more, that what he appeared to represent.  Unfortunately Brexit and his support for it shows the limits of old-style Labour politics, and the first casualty of Corbyn’s support for Brexit is his reputation for honesty and plain speaking.  The last casualty could be the success of the Party itself.

This reluctance to criticise or organise in spite of Corbyn, and against him if necessary, risks demoralising the mass membership on which the current future of socialism in Britain depends.  So, while Corbyn argues for a Brexit that is little different from Theresa May’s Withdrawal Deal, perhaps the Labour membership should also take their example from their Tory equivalents.

The rank and file of the Tory Party are as in favour of Brexit as their Labour opposites are against it, and are attempting to call an extraordinary general meeting of the Party to get rid of Theresa May to ensure Brexit goes through, deal or no deal. Like the Tory rank and file who are fed up waiting for Brexit, Labour members have been waiting for a general election or the Party to actually support a second referendum.  But both May and Corbyn seem to be doing everything to run down the clock, prevented only by the fact that Brexit would be a disaster quite quickly without significant amelioration of its effects. Accepting what these are and what their cost would be for the Brexit project has prevented an agreed deal.

Today, the real fight for British socialists is to stop Brexit and to mobilise the ranks of the Labour Party against it.  Corbyn matters only in so far as he facilitates working class organisation and the progressive measures that a social democratic Labour Government could introduce.  Brexit threatens both and so does Corbyn’s support for it.