The Communist Party of Ireland and Brexit 2

In defence of Brexit the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) repeats claims made by the Tory Party European Research Group (ERG), claims which have long been discredited. They revolve around the argument that nothing will really change unless we (the British State) want it to.

In dismissing claims that leaving the EU will lead to trade barriers such as tariffs, the CPI claims that “with so much trade between Britain and EU countries it is unlikely that the capitalist class will want to lose this market.”  We get the CPI version of the Tory argument that the Germans will want to sell us their cars so we’ll be alright.  And in another repeat of such nonsense we are told that “many countries would be very happy to begin trading with Britain that are not allowed now under EU regulations. They will now be free to trade wherever they want.”

So, when Britain leaves the EU it will strike up agreements with other countries, and presumably the capitalist rivalry that sets the framework for such deals will involve none of the detrimental effects that arise from those made by the  EU.  Imperialism, neoliberalism, undemocratic impositions etc. will all cease to be a problem when Britain seeks trade deals with the USA, China, Arab dictatorships, Asian tigers and Latin American governments such as that in Brazil.  Such an outcome is described in this way – “The British people have taken the first step towards economic independence by rejecting control by EU capital. The next step is for us to do the same with the native capitalist class.”

Since much of international trade is within a single multinational company, or involves materials or components for further assembly, it is difficult to understand how leaving the EU would lead to independence, never mind the question why you would want such independence in the first place.  It’s not at all clear how leaving the EU is analogous to the British ‘people’ leaving its capitalist class – or having ‘economic independence’ from it.

But it’s not just the faulty imagery of the Brexit project peddled by its Tory sponsors that infects the CPI’s support.  In an effort to bolster its case the Party repeats exactly the same arguments.

So, the ignorant fiction of Jacob Rees-Mogg is repeated in the claim that “under the World Trade Organization’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (article XXIV:5, clause 3), Britain will be allowed to have free trade with the EU for ten years while it negotiates a new trade deal . . .”

Brexit, it seems, will mean freedom but it’s a good thing it won’t happen right away.  A modern version perhaps of St Augustine’s prayer – “O God make me pure, But not yet’

This is a claim repeatedly exposed as mistaken, so it is not therefore “all utter nonsense”, as the CPI claim it is, to say that trade barriers will arise when the UK leaves the EU.  The nonsense that exists is the claim of the ERG, repeated by the Communist Party, ironically in an article entitled ‘Brexit: Fact or Fiction?’.

The Party claims that “the open borders for trade within the EU are self-regulatory, in that all members comply with the regulations, and there are no tariffs. If Britain wants to deal with the EU after Brexit it will have to do the same; so there is no need for queues at borders, whether “hard” or “soft.  There will be random checks . . . If British companies are found to be outside the regulations they will be dealt with by the legal system.”

It seems as if the CPI supporters of Brexit feel the need to justify support for Brexit in a concrete way that others such as People before Profit and the Socialist Party do not, although this only exposes their case.

The borders within the EU are not “self-regulatory”, whatever that means, as the CPI itself surreptitiously admits when it states that regulations must be complied with – by members.  But after Brexit Britain will not be a member and compliance works because of thousands of pages of regulations and a legal system that imposes them; a system Brexit supporters are desperate to leave but think will allow Britain to continue to trade as other EU states do.  It is admitted that there will be ‘random’ checks’, but only as they exist now, despite Britain not being a member.  And of course, all this in the version of Brexit sought by the Tory ultras and the CPI, which is of the ‘plain and simple’ kind – i.e. involving no customs union!

So while Boris Johnson wants to have his cake and eat it, it appears the CPI wants the whole bakery while destroying it. The irony of wanting out of the EU because of such things as the customs union, Single Market and EU court system, while relying on these to save the project from disaster must be lost on members of the Party.

It’s not that the CPI is totally blind to the potential consequences of the Tory inspired Brexit but it seeks to disassociate itself from any responsibility for it by simultaneously claiming that while it will makes things worse it will not be very much different:

“If Brexit occurs according to their design and under Conservative Party governance, Britain will remain a largely low-wage country but with a diminishing social wage and a constantly receding welfare safety net—in other words, not greatly different from Britain within the EU”

The Party also recognises that in their fight against the EU they have been joined by viciously right wing parties across Europe and that “the beneficiaries of this growing disillusionment have been the political right,” but again there is no reflection on what this says about their support for the project.

The Party‘s support does however illustrate the alarming similarities between their left nationalism and the nationalism of the right. Both seek to destroy the EU, not in order to replace it with something progressive at an international level, and not in the sense that they seek to reform it in some way.  Their solution is to return to the nation state, and a strong state at that.  There are reports in Britain that such an alliance of convenience might already be sewing confusion.

The CPI has learned nothing from the collapse of the Stalinist states and the disrepute these brought to socialism in the eyes of millions of workers around the world.  It expresses regret at “the defeat and overthrow of socialism in Europe” and ignores the Stalinist regimes’ responsibility for incubating the xenophobic nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism that characterise many of the states in Eastern Europe that lived under this ‘socialism’.

Calling itself Marxist the Party ignores Marx and Engels repeated opposition to the identification of state ownership with working class rule and socialism.  The Party’s goals are not workers unity across nations, working class independence and opposition to their own capitalist states, but support for regression from the international capitalist development of the EU to more backward and therefore necessarily reactionary forms – “a departure from the EU could provide the opportunity to break both dependencies and establish an independent, sovereign national democracy, giving real power and influence to working people.”

The CPI supports Brexit that threatens a ‘hard’ border while it states that “the labour movement needs now to be actively supporting north-south co-operation, the all-Ireland economy, and the protection of the Belfast Agreement”.

It denies ‘retreating to the past’ but its policy is just that – “we need to push real, concrete demands for all-Ireland solutions to health, education and economic and social development, an all-Ireland investment and industrial strategy that favours working people, and targeted capital investment that meets the needs of our people, not the needs of speculators and profit-hungry corporations. This requires national control of capital, something that is totally illegal at present under EU rules.”

Again and again nationalism replaces class: so we have national control of capital not workers ownership; while we must defend the nation state which alone is presented as the road to real change and the depository of “democracy” and “accountability”. The demand is for “national sovereignty and national democracy.”  Not workers democracy and workers sovereignty. This sort of sovereignty is not only not the same but is incompatible with the sovereignty of the capitalist nation state and goes way beyond the democracy that this state will allow.

The Irish working class will be free and sovereign only as a part of the freedom and sovereignty of its sisters and brothers in the rest of Europe.  Not only is national sovereignty the wrong objective to fight for it is impossible, even for the biggest powers,  to claim unchallenged and unimpeded national sovereignty.  It is certainly ridiculous to consider such an idea for a small country like Ireland – the EU is currently teaching this to a much more powerful country.

Brexit is currently an object lesson that exposes the reactionary nature of seeking national solutions to the problems facing the working class.  The confusion and shambles of the current British exit from the EU is not what invalidates it, but is only symptomatic of the contradictions that an attempt to go backwards must expose.

To state, as does the CPI, that for a humane and socialist world “our contribution, as a small country, to this sought-after development must be to create a sovereign workers’ republic—a republic free from British, EU and US imperialism and supportive of progressive humanity wherever it struggles for the good of all” is to believe in the impossible. A sovereign Irish Workers Republic cannot exist while “British, EU and US imperialism” exist.  That’s one reason why the genuine solution is an international one.

The members of the CPI may not be able to conceive what such a solution would look like but that is because they haven’t looked.  Old formulations based on militant nationalism or republicanism laced with leftist phrases are familiar but have failed. The left nationalism of the CPI is reactionary and harks after a past that is dead.  Brexit is teaching this for those who are willing to learn.  If the past is another country, for Ireland’s workers that country is Britain. No wonder they don’t want to follow it.

The Communist Party of Ireland and Brexit 1

In common with every left defence of Brexit, the Communist Party of Ireland (CPI) states that its starting point is “a class understanding . . . does it strengthen and advance the interests of labour (workers) or consolidate and advance the power and control of capital (bosses)?”

Unfortunately, the author then also states that “Brexit is at its heart a question of democracy and sovereignty”, and in relation to these there is no ‘class understanding’ involved.  The article quoted (see below) demonstrates that it does not consider that democracy has a class character, or that the the sovereignty invoked is the sovereignty of a state, and this too has a class character.

So the CPI doesn’t start from the sovereignty and democracy of the working class – the independence and self-determination of the working class – and so does not start from defence of its interests and explain what these might be.  What the CPI starts from is the independence of a nation, or rather two separate nations – Ireland and Britain – to presumably be followed by every other nation state within the EU.

Class becomes submerged under the requirements of individual nation states, i.e. capitalist states, and only within these is real change, in particular by working people, possible– “The strategy of the EU was and is to close down at the national level the capacity of people, in particular working people, to effect real change. It was to neutralise the capacity and the impact of national class struggle, to hollow out democracy . . .”  The idea that the working class must seek to organise itself at an international level to struggle internationally does not appear.

In the case of Ireland this means that it is not only the working class that is made subservient to a European imperialism but also that “The Irish ruling class is still subservient, still parasitic and dependent upon its relationship with imperialism. It is a comprador ruling elite.  The relationship between this state and the EU—as indeed with all the peripheral states—is a special form of neo-colonialism. We see this in the debt imposed on the peripheral states by the core states—all former colonial powers—and in the imposition of various “programmes” to facilitate the transfer of wealth from peripheral to core countries.”

The concrete reality that the Irish State and its rulers have benefited from membership of the EU is covered up while austerity programmes initiated and implemented by individual member states are ignored.  The transfer of wealth is considered primarily, as transfers between nations and not between classes.  For example the implementation of the EU’s Troika programme of austerity in the Irish Sate was preceded and followed by austerity imposed by and through the Irish State.  To proclaim that the answer to fighting the former is to fight for the ‘freedom’ and ‘sovereignty’ of the latter is a betrayal of the interests of the Irish working class and by extension of all those across Europe whose interest lies in their unity against both.

Because it does not start with “a class understanding” the CPI asks the wrong question – “Who needs to win back powers and establish national sovereignty and national democracy? We have to ask the question, Which class needs the tools of national democracy and sovereignty to advance their interests? And which class is subservient to and will collaborate with the EU and imperialism? . . . Are not national democracy and national sovereignty the essential tools needed for advancing the interests of the Irish working class?”

In this way the cause of nationalism is identified with the cause of the working class and the nation (capitalist) state is the instrument of its salvation through “a radical government anchored in a mobilised, politicised working class”

I have written a number of posts (beginning here) on the fallacy of this as a strategy for the Irish working class in relation to its adoption by those who consider themselves Trotskyist, including most recently the Socialist Party, although at least in the current case the CPI are being true to their political tradition.

The tools required by the working class are not the sovereignty of the capitalist state or the democracy that this state will allow to it, except in so far as the democratic norms that exist allow it to organise. The proper tools are the unity, independence and organisation of the working class against the capitalist state, at a national level as well as in opposition to their collaboration at the international level.

The members of the CPI should consider why so many of the Party’s claims and reasoning for Brexit require distortions of reality and arguments derived from Tory-ultras.  Even their most simple- minded vacuous rhetoric finds its CPI equivalent. Where Theresa May justified her most extreme version of Brexit as ‘Brexit means Brexit’, so does the CPI state that “It should not be assuming that Britain is going to remain in the customs union with an agreed backstop, thereby reneging on the result of the referendum, which was that Britain would leave the EU—not “kind of” leave it, partially leave it, or “sort of” leave it. It was a British exit from the EU. Plain and simple.”

So for the CPI Brexit means Brexit, “plain and simple”.  And no matter how complicated it has turned out to be the CPI, like the Tory Brexit ultras, make the same declarations, such as this one (in February of this year) even while the reality of exiting the EU shows it to be neither “plain” nor “simple.”

The CPI, also like the Tory ultras and the DUP, blames the EU for threatening a hard border inside Ireland.  Having opposed the EU-proposed backstop, again like the Tory Brexiteers, that is intended to prevent a hard border, it argues that it is the EU which will cause it to happen – “We must remember who’s doing the threatening. It is not Britain’s border, or Ireland’s border: it is the EU’s border. It is up to the EU to sort out this problem in the interest of its members, in other words Ireland, the only member affected by it.”

The idea that the border of the EU in Ireland affects only the Irish State and not the rest of the EU demonstrates such an ignorance of the issue at stake that it is hard to work out what it is this writer actually does understand.  In any case, once again we see left supporters of Brexit survey its potential wreckage and call on its great enemy to sort out the mess.  This approach is like that of the Socialist Party (SP). In an internal SP discussion their position is stated like this – “We say that whatever way the different capitalist vested interests resolve their business dispute, it must be done without any physical or repressive borders.”

In one contribution to the internal discussion a leading member of the SP correctly describes this position in this way:

“This far too passive and abstract position has been repeatedly echoed and emphasised in oral discussion along the lines of “You [the capitalists] deal with this yourselves. We’re not going to accept any division.” It accepts that the capitalist classes are in power and simply says they must implement Brexit without physical borders. What it doesn’t say is how this real problem would be addressed by a left government with a socialist programme.”

As I have pointed out in an earlier post, there is no immediate or short term prospect of a left Government, even if this was the correct strategic objective to go for, so the question becomes – how is the wreckage of Brexit to be addressed in a political programme?  The obvious answer of course is to prevent it.

The CPI states that “The vote to leave had nothing to do with xenophobia and everything to do with the damage the EU has done to British industry and jobs”, despite the evidence of opinion polls to the contrary.  We are expected to believe that the Leave vote had nothing to do with xenophobia despite it being supported by the vast majority of Tory voters, all of UKIP’s supporters and the far-right, including the fascists.

The loss of British industry and jobs is supposedly to be resisted through Brexit and making new free trade deals with the rest of the world, to where much of old British industry has relocated; while newer industries often dependent on membership of the EU – such as the car industry in Sunderland – are to be defended by leaving it!

It’s one of those occasions where you sigh that you couldn’t make it up, when referring to someone who just has. But then the CPI does it again!

It criticises the Irish Government for “siding with the EU against Britain, which also happens to be our largest trading partner, and against the decision made by its citizens to leave the EU”.  And it says this while supporting a British exit from the EU, which happens to be Britain’s largest trading partner!

So the CPI claims that “The EU is doing to Britain exactly what it did to Ireland during the financial crash”, “the EU and its anti-democratic nature has once again proved itself to be an enemy of independent, sovereign decision-making”, and “the EU has to be seen to punish Britain for leaving.”  We are reminded that “the Irish people today are caught in the triple lock of imperialist interests: British, European, and American.”  Britain appears as both oppressed and oppressor, as imperialist and subject to imperialism,although it’s never explained how, in the CPI’s terms, this is the case.

For the CPI, with Brexit, “at least the North will be shaking off the shackles of EU imperialism. One down, two to go: British and American next!”  Imperialism is not seen as a world-wide system, within which there is a unity characterised by capitalist competition and rivalry, but is understood as a series individual states, or groups of states, which oppress other nations.  The world is divided into nations and not classes, which only attain some sort of rhetorical primacy when they exist within individual, ‘independent’ states.  There is no conception of an international workers or socialist struggle, but at most a solidarity of struggles based not on some tangible and immediate interest but on moral grounds or more distant goals.

Note: In this and following posts the quotes from the statements of the CPI can be found here:

https://socialistvoice.ie/2017/10/brexit-who-decides/

https://socialistvoice.ie/2018/10/the-irish-left-and-the-european-union/

https://socialistvoice.ie/2018/11/brexit-and-backstops-difficulties-for-the-eu-continue-to-intensify/

https://socialistvoice.ie/2019/01/brexit-and-the-divisions-within-the-british-ruling-class/

https://socialistvoice.ie/2019/02/brexit-fact-or-fiction/