Brexit and Ireland part 2 – the hard border

border-brexitHaving at first said she didn’t want “to return to the borders of the past” between the North and the South of Ireland, Theresa May now says that “when the UK leaves the EU we aim to have as seamless and frictionless a border as possible between Northern Ireland and Ireland.”  What this means is that we will have a seam showing and lots of friction.

This is because, while Theresa May would like to portray the relationship as one between the North and South, the actual relationship is between the UK and the EU – this is the border that will exist post-Brexit.  Formulations to the contrary are but one example of the Brexiteers hopes to divide the EU so that it can obtain concessions from particular member states, in this case it would be in the form of a special deal for Northern Ireland.

This can range from continuing EU membership for the North (although this would create unmanageable problems in relation to Scotland) to border controls at Liverpool or Cairnryan.  This would then leave the need for potentially relatively minor checks at the Irish border itself.  Of course, we could get these checks at Belfast or Larne instead.

It was interesting that immigration checks into the UK at Dublin airport on behalf of the British was floated as a story a few months ago and flew longer than it should have, before being shot down on the grounds that the Brits can do their own dirty work (I paraphrase).  However, the Irish don’t mind the dirty work being done on their territory when it comes to the United States.  When it was also floated that the Irish State would not cooperate with racist immigration controls introduced by Donald Trump, it was quickly squashed when it was revealed, or anyway declared, that the Irish could do nothing about the pre-clearance carried out by the US immigration service on Irish soil.

Controls at British ports is about as good as it would get but it would only reveal that the fixation on the line on the map is a diversion by everyone involved.  Regardless of where the checks would take place they would be enforcing customs restrictions and any tariffs that have to be imposed.  Much of the work at the ports would just be checking while the real imposition of trade restrictions would take place in offices all across the UK and Ireland, processing the necessary paperwork and money flows.  It is these restrictions that would damage trade and thereby threaten employment.

The only point of checks on the border if they were already carried out at Liverpool or Larne would be if some smart ass thought they could avoid customs restrictions by siting themselves in Northern Ireland rather than in Britain, but if this happened to any extent the controls would move from Liverpool or Larne to Lifford, Dundalk and Newry.

Immigration and customs checks going into or out of the island might be sold as a special deal.  The British nationalism that is driving the demands for Brexit doesn’t give a damn about the Irish in the north of Ireland, if they get in the way of what suits the real British in England, Wales and Scotland.  The unionist supporters of Brexit in the North of Ireland might complain that they weren’t then being treated like the rest of her majesty’s subjects, but those of us old enough to remember the Belfast flight being off in some corner of the airport and having to fill in Prevention of Terrorism cards will have seen it before.

Besides checking on the import and export of goods, the other reason for border controls would be to check on people moving, so that those from the EU could not pass freely to the Irish State, then to the North and then to Britain.  The British, Irish and the EU have all signalled appreciation of the importance of the Common Travel Area between the Irish State and the UK, under which Republic of Ireland born are treated entirely the same as UK passport holders under the Ireland Act 1949, but this is within the gift of the EU.  Free entry, or looser entry from the island of Ireland would have to be compensated for by stricter controls within Britain itself, if it was believed that people from the EU were coming into Britain to get jobs through Ireland.  Already we have had xenophobic statements from senior Tories calling for registers of EU citizens employed in the UK.  This was rejected, but we haven’t gotten to the sharp end of the Brexit negotiations yet when the real aggro will start.  Welcome to the nasty world of a hard Brexit – the one we’re going to face.

Irish citizens living in the UK have had rights to welfare for decades before both the UK and Irish states joined the EU but under Brexit they will be EU citizens when the UK is no longer an EU member.  It cannot be assumed that the EU would be happy at discrimination against a majority of its citizens which favoured the Irish even if the British were happy to maintain these rights.  And what of those with Irish passports in Northern Ireland?  How are they to be identified, or rather identify themselves, to ensure that they don’t have second class rights as UK citizens?

All this explains the apparently surprising flurry of statements from Irish politicians talking about Brexit leading to a united Ireland – even from the most partitionist of sources.  But what they fret about is the cost to their own business and state on their side of the border, not sudden awareness of the calamitous results of partition on democratic rights.

That some people have taken these statements as more than bullshit is testament to failure to realise that the effects of the border are not primarily felt on the border itself but in the politics of the two societies that lie behind each side of it.  This is why much of the alarmist claims that Brexit will damage the peace process and/or will create conditions for a successful referendum to remove the border are so wide of the mark.

Everyone know the EU played a relatively minor role in the pacification of the North of Ireland.  The rush for Irish passports after the referendum is not enough to signal any mass change in political identity but a sensible pragmatic decision, which those choosing hope won’t come back to bite them.  They can, anyway, get two passports.  Northern Ireland voted Remain but even this split was very much, although not to the usual extent, based on sectarian lines.  Even where massive majorities of nationalists voted for Remain, such as in West Belfast, the turnout wasn’t great.  I know unionists who voted Remain and they’re still unionists, and being unionist means being trapped into a sectarian political state because unionism demands it even if these people don’t.

There is going to be no return to political violence because of a hard border, even if it does cause significant inconvenience for those living along it, which is the most likely outcome.  A bit of nationalist history is instructive here.

The recent ‘Troubles’ broke out not because of problems with the border – the IRA’s border campaign of 1956 to 1962 had achieved nothing and fizzled out.  It followed an earlier bombing campaign in Britain and previous demise of the original raison d’être of the anti-Treaty IRA, which was fighting the treachery of the Free State forces, in other words fighting the Southern State.  By the 1950s republicans had abandoned fighting the Free State and accepted it, so that now it is almost forgotten that this was the IRA’s primary purpose.  Instead, what drove the IRA to its more recent prominence was what society inside the Northern Ireland border was like – its sectarianism and capacity for violence in defence of it, particularly by State forces.

In other words, what will, and currently is, causing the degeneration of the ‘peace process’ political arrangements are the internal contradictions within the process itself.  This does not mean that external factors are unimportant.  In fact, my own view is that such factors will be decisive in clearing away the political slum that is Northern Ireland.  What it does mean is that the effects of Brexit will exacerbate the problems but not be their key cause.

It is not the erection of border posts that will matter, they will just be visible symbols of the changes occurring.  The IRA, of whichever group, is not going to relaunch any significant armed struggle directed against the border.  This border will be just as much an EU/Irish border as a British one and just as much, if not more, a requirement of the former as the latter, even if it is the British whose Brexit has brought it into a harder form.

What will matter is the damaging effects on the North and South of Ireland of Brexit and the competing demands of Britain, the US under Trump and the EU.  In periods of relative geo-political stability small countries and regions can appear relatively stable and entertain illusions of sovereignty and autonomy.  When big powers seek a reconfiguration of international structures they rarely give a f*** about the interests of small countries.

Forward to part 3

Back to part 1

Brexit and Ireland part 1 – the Irish Left

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forward to part 2

Jeremy Corbyn and Article 50 – part 2

 

HARLOW, ENGLAND - APRIL 05: Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, addresses supporters and members of the media as he launches his party's local election campaign on April 5, 2016 in Harlow, England. Mr Corbyn visited the Essex town to meet supporters and to officially launch the Labour Party's local election campaign ahead of voting on May 5th. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

The argument that we can do nothing about Brexit except make the best of it is presented in a lucid argument on this blog.  Three reasons are advanced in support of the view that for the Labour Party to oppose Brexit “would be disastrous”.

Firstly, it would fail.  The Tories will vote for it as will the early pioneers of Donald Trump – the Donald Unionist Party.  And so will those Labour MPs in Brexit-majority constituencies who show much more readiness to oppose their leadership than the disaster that awaits their working class constituents.

This may or may not be true, although it certainly will be true if the opposition to Brexit itself refuses to oppose it.  The mantra that “the people” have voted for Brexit will be made official if those MPs supposedly opposed join in making the slim majority in the referendum an overwhelming vote in parliament.

The typically arrogant and supremacist claim of the Brexit right will be confirmed, that the only people who matter are those led by bigots.  The loyalist slogan “we are the people”, to be understood in the sense that everyone else is a lesser being, sits perfectly with the declarations of Farage and Trump that they alone speak for the people, because those who do not support them do not count.  Not voting against Brexit confirms the strident demands of the bullying reactionaries that their vote based on lies, fantasy and prejudice is unimpeachable.

On the other hand a vigorous campaign led by Labour against Brexit, which explains the real effects that are already visible, could compel reluctant Labour MPs to vote against Brexit and provide the cover for Tories opposed to Brexit to do the same.  We have been ‘warned’ repeatedly that a majority of MPs oppose Brexit, what matters is the political environment to make this a reality; and while the vote in parliament will decide the matter, the combination of disastrous consequences and political mobilisation outside parliament can determine it.

And if we are talking about numbers – what about the 65% of Labour voters who voted to Remain or do concerns about losing support only apply when bowing down to the most reactionary segment of support?  In terms of sheer numbers it makes no sense to alienate 65% in order to placate 35%.  ‘We can’t neglect to take on board the concerns of our working class supporters’ doesn’t really cut it when you look at it this way, unless you accept the nonsense that Remain voters were the metropolitan elite who, guess what, are not part of ‘the people.’

The second argument is that Labour cannot be seen to be “gifting the Tories, UKIP and the majority right-wing media the narrative of it  ‘seeking to subvert the will of the people’.  Absolutely everything it had to say on Brexit after a vote against triggering Article 50 would be met by this message being hammered home again and again and again.”

This is no doubt true; it is also true, although I do not know to what extent, that some Labour voters supporting Brexit will vote against Labour or abstain if it seeks “to subvert the will of the people”.   But it must again be recalled that the majority of Labour voters voted Remain!  And it really is internalising defeat when you vote with the Tories against the wishes of a majority of your own supporters.  However true the argument is that the strident claims of the Brexiteers will gain traction if Labour doesn’t bow before their demands, the contrary argument put here is also true, true to our principles and true to our future:

“The Tory MP, Ken Clarke, is quite right when he says that he has supported membership of the Common Market, and EU for fifty years, and that it would be ludicrous to suggest that just because of the referendum vote, he now had to act as though he was an opponent of it. Or, if Trump were currently, to hold a referendum, in the US, to garner support for his ban on Muslims entering the country, Labour would say,“Oh well, we lost that vote, so we will have to tag along behind Trump’s racist and reactionary policies.”

The parallel drawn here is not merely similar to the Brexit vote; in the immediate sense it is identical.  The Trump measures against refugees and the citizens of seven countries is a clear attack on peoples’ ability to move and to seek a better life in another country.  The Brexit vote was led by just the same sort of xenophobic and racist politics that motivated the reactionary Trump campaign, even if not all who voted for Brexit were xenophobes or racists, just like Trump voters, who weren’t all bigots and racists either.

The parallel is identical because a core principle socialists are trying to defend by opposing Brexit is the freedom of movement of working people in the EU, just like the freedom of movement of refugees and citizens of mainly Muslim countries to the US.  Working class solidarity is hardly a credible proposition if you don’t defend the ability of workers of different nations to work together.  It is much harder to make it a reality if it is prevented.  We know this, amongst other reasosn, because we know that the Brexit vote did not succeed in areas with the largest number of immigrants but often in areas with low numbers.

The third argument is that the Labour strategy of seeking to amend the Brexit process “will seek to ensure parliament has oversight of and influence over the kind of Brexit we get” and “does not lend power to the idea that Labour is ‘opposed to democracy’ and actually offers the prospect of pro-EU Tories supporting amendments which could make a real difference in preventing what is being called ‘hard Brexit’.”

Aside from the strength of an opposition that ultimately promises to vote in favour of triggering Article 50 it is unfortunately the case that a hard Brexit is the only one on offer.  An end to the free movement of workers in the EU is already a given, as is the exit from existing free trade arrangements, the disruption of which will impact on British capitalism and thereby on British workers, not to mention those in the EU.

As I have already argued, the strategy of a low-tax, deregulated and low wage Britain is the most credible one for an isolated nation seeking to insert itself into an international system in which every other large economy is part of a free-trade arrangement.  The exposure that Britain will impose on itself was illustrated by an article in Monday’s ‘Financial Times’, which reported a study that 46% of goods and services exports from the UK’s 62 cities went to the EU.  In contrast China accounted for only 4%, so that in order to make up a drop of 10% in EU exports would require a doubling of them to China or an increase by nearly one-third to the US.

Given that we know that a hard Brexit is coming it makes no sense to pretend the Tories will deliver anything else.  Could anyone seriously believe the Tories want to exit the rules and regulations of the EU because they want to make the regulations governing working conditions and employment rights better?

To pretend they will do anything else is a stand-out illustration of the weakness of an approach that tail-ends the Tories confusion and incompetence and that has allowed them to get away with taking over six months before even giving the broadest of outlines of what they wanted.  Leaving opposition to some final vote that the Tories can ignore is to play parliamentary games with workers’ futures when you aren’t in control of the rules.  There appears no guarantee that even defeating a Tory Brexit deal will not allow them to exit with no deal, as they have threatened.  A movement that would make this outcome politically unacceptable might prevent employment of such a device.

The only honest approach is to explain that a hard Brexit is inevitable and to build opposition to it on this basis, not wait for it to happen.  Having (sometimes) stated that the Tories will deliver a hard Brexit, the Labour Party is open to increasing incredulity and anger that they are not now opposing it.  The shadow-Brexit secretary Kier Starmer has told everyone that it is now impossible to oppose Brexit, making it clear that a single consideration trumps every other concern, while it took the old Tory Ken Clarke to make the points Starmer would not:

“Let me give an analogy in explaining the position for members of parliament after this referendum. I have fought Lord knows how many elections over the past 50 years and I have always advocated voting Conservative. The British public in their wisdom have occasionally failed to take my advice and they have actually by a majority voted Labour. And I have found myself here facing a Labour government.”

“I do not recall an occasion where I was told it was now my democratic duty to support Labour policies under Labour governments on the other side of the House. That proposition would have been treated with ridicule and scorn. “

“We are combining withdrawal from the single market and the customs union with this great new globalised future, which offers tremendous opportunities for us. Apparently you follow the rabbit down the hole and you emerge in a wonderland where suddenly countries around the world are queuing up to give us trading advantages and access to their markets that previously we had never been able to achieve as part of the European Union. Nice men like President Trump and President Erdogan are just impatient to abandon their normal protectionism and give us access.”

“Don’t let me be too cynical – I hope that is right. I want the best outcome for the United Kingdom from this process. No doubt there is somewhere a Hatter holding a tea party with a dormouse.”

This third argument has been put most pithily by Labour’s former deputy leader Harriet Harman – “accept the result.”  Except the real result of the referendum is not yet in and it would be criminal to accept it.

The third argument on accepting Brexit relies on the undoubtedly true argument that the referendum result “has been decades in the making. Parties across the political spectrum have happily blamed the EU as an easy scapegoat for domestic decisions (even the SNP blamed the EU in the row over privatising Calmac) while politicians have at best ignored popular hostility towards immigration and at worst fanned it.  In my lifetime it has been common for politicians to use the rhetoric of the far right on immigration, push increasingly intolerant policies on asylum and immigration and engage in a perverse arms race on who can be ‘toughest‘ on the issue.”

However, while true, this can hardly be an argument not to fight back now and, as I mentioned at the end of the first post, “in some ways Brexit provides better ground to take up this fight against nationalism and racism than before.”  This is because the reactionary politics of nationalism and racism which has created Brexit will not benefit workers, and their continued pursuit of them will hurt them rather quickly and rather directly.

Brexit allows the reactionary import of nationalism and racism to be demonstrated through the attacks on workers’ rights, conditions and living standards that Brexit will inevitably involve.  It provides the grounds to clearly separate the hardened ideological bigots from workers mistakenly attracted to false and simple-minded solutions that are nor in their interest.  Now is not the time to entertain the idea that restrictions on immigration and deference to reactionary nationalism can be combined with protection of workers to produce a mildly progressive ‘soft’ Brexit.

There is no combination of nationalism and racism with state ‘national’ socialism that will be in the interests of workers.  By pointing this out and fighting for an alternative the Labour Party will be proved right if or when Brexit either becomes a reality, or its disastrous effects become visible and palpable before this happens.  To prepare for this means opposing Brexit now and being best placed to build the movement that stops it and inflicts a defeat on the forces of reaction behind it.  Which leads to a final argument put up against opposition to Brexit now.

“This brings us to probably the most profoundly scary reason why Labour (and indeed other politicians) trying to prevent Brexit in parliament is such a terrible idea. As we’ve seen, rhetoric around ‘elites’ trying to ‘subvert democracy’ has been common in the aftermath of the referendum and we’ve heard how bigotry has surged. Yet if politicians were to actually prevent the result of the referendum being implemented as the worst extremes of the right keep suggesting they want to, this would provide a founding myth for the far-right of the kind we have not seen in my lifetime. There is no doubt in my mind that not only would UKIP surge dramatically in this scenario but that less ‘respectable’ fascists like the EDL would explode in popularity, emboldened by the simple and powerful narrative that the ‘elite’ were ignoring ‘the people’.”

There is no doubt some truth in this as well but it is rather like the truth that Brexit will be shown to be the shitshow predicted when it comes to pass.  Will the working class and the socialist movement be better off for having been proved right or will we have suffered a bitter defeat from which we will have to struggle to recover?  And similarly, if we defeat Brexit – the right of the Tory party and UKIP plus their ‘respectable’ fascists – will they be stronger or weaker for their defeat? The right can have its myths and its narrative if the labour and socialist movement can have its victory.

Back to part 1

Crisis? What Crisis? – part 5 Brexit? What Brexit?

supertrampGeorge Monbiot wrote an article on Brexit for The Guardian that was subsequently reprinted in Village magazine.  In it he says that we should not only accept the Brexit referendum vote but “should embrace it.”

Yes, the Brexit campaign was ‘led by a political elite, funded by an economic elite and fuelled by a media elite.  Popular anger was channelled against immigrants but the vote was also a howl of rage against exclusion, alienation and remote authority.’ That is why the Brexit slogan “take back control” resonated.  “If the left can’t work with this, what are we for?” he said.

But, like the old Irish story of the response to someone who was lost and needed directions to a particular place – if I was going to there I wouldn’t start from here.

What the left is for, hopefully, is not to pretend that we can work with reactionary politics to sugar the pill, which is altogether different from having to deal with a reactionary situation and trying to make the best of it.

‘Working with it’ first of all means understanding that the “howl of rage against exclusion” was captured by those seeking their own exclusion of foreigners.  Alienation is of no use unless it can be overcome and not displaced onto the wrong target, and blaming a remote authority in Brussels just gets us back to the “rage against exclusion” and blaming foreigners.  As for “take back control”, this was a reactionary nationalist response that showed incredible levels of ignorance of the power, position and role of the British State.  Even if this power were not severely diminished; even if its position of weakness were not more and more exposed, and even if its supplicant role is not becoming more pronounced, it would still be a reactionary commitment to nationalism that we ‘cannot work with’ except in the sense of attempting to undermine and defeat.

Monbiot presents Brexit as a land of opportunity – “If it is true that Britain will have to renegotiate its trade treaties, is this not the best chance we’ve had in decades to contain corporate power – of insisting that companies that operate here must offer proper contracts, share their profits, cut their emissions and pay their taxes? Is it not a chance to regain control of the public services slipping from our grasp?”

But who exactly is going to exert control in this way, assuming for the moment it’s possible?  We can be sure that, in any Brexit negotiations, containing corporate power will not be an objective of Theresa May.  We can even be confident that, in negotiations between the greater capitalist power wielded by the EU and the lesser power of Britain, the weaknesses of the latter will be exploited by the former.  And this balance of forces would weigh to an even greater extent on any sort of left Government in Britain facing a much more powerful EU.

Only with allies in the EU, primarily in the shape of a European-wide workers’ movement, would it be possible for the balance of forces to tilt towards the workers.  But this obviously points in the direction of staying in the EU.  As part of the EU there would at least be the beginnings of a political unity within which the workers’ movements of the various European countries could achieve some measure of unity and seek to exercise power at an international level.

But such a perspective would mean rejecting Brexit and continuing to fight it.

I looked at the arguments surrounding such an approach before and said that “there is no principled reason why there could not be a new vote.  What matters is how this might come about. Brexit is reactionary and its implementation will provide repeated evidence of it.  In fighting against its effects such a fight should not renounce fighting their immediate cause.”

I further said that “it could be claimed that there is little point in observing that the Brexit campaign lied through its teeth and has immediately retracted pretty much all its biggest claims – about money saved going to the NHS or of a future large reduction in immigration.  If telling the truth was a prerequisite for maintaining the results of a vote the Tories would not still be in office.”

Except of course unlike a general election, in which the winning party takes office immediately, we do not have Brexit immediately and it has become increasingly obvious that the Brexit campaign has no idea how it will deliver on promises it is still making, promises that become ever less credible.

There are some steps to limit the damage that the Tories have taken, such as the secret deal with Nissan, but this exposes any notion of taking back control.  We don’t know the cost or even whether it involves state support the EU could sooner or later simply nullify, whether Britain were in or out.

But there have been and will be consequences which no Government can do much about; such as the depreciation of the currency, inflation and rising interest rates.  When the Governor of the Bank of England says that he will let inflation overshoot the target of 2% to save jobs that’s really very good of him, because there’s nothing short of cratering the economy that he can do about it.

So to give up on fighting Brexit is to put British workers at the mercy of the most reactionary and frankly stupid sections of the Tory party.  It is to accept their risible promises and seek simply to expose them through their failure, a failure whose heaviest price will be paid by workers.  It is to accept the drastic fall in living standards that has already begun and it is to accept the secrecy necessary to cover up the unfolding disaster.

In this respect the demand for parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s plans and their progress, including sweetheart deals, is important.  Not just to expose the policy of Brexit but also the nationalist alternatives that will flourish in the twilight of Brexit failure. Such nationalist intervention will come from the SNP pointing to a betrayal of Scotland or a UKIP narrative that accumulating failures of Brexit come from an insufficiently committed Brexit Government.  So far it has been the Treasury mandarins who have led the fight against Brexit and we can expect further leaks if, or rather when, the current trio of Brexit ministers demonstrate the failure of their policy.

However, the perspective of the Labour Party is not opposition to Brexit but to fight for a “people’s Brexit” as opposed to a “bankers’ Brexit.”  John McDonnell has argued that:

“Britain voted to leave the EU, and that decision should be and must be respected.

We should not pretend that the referendum result can be undone.  If we do that, and walk off the field, we will simply be allowing other forces to give their own answers to those questions it has posed

The simple truth is that the Tory establishment cannot be trusted to make a success of Brexit. Labour in government is the only party that would be prepared to take the necessary measures to make a success of Brexit

We are also committed to making sure that Brexit works for everyone not an elite few. Labour would work with our European neighbours to protect our key industries like steel, and negotiate deals with the EU to make sure big multinationals like Google pay their fair share in tax.”

On the other hand –

  • If the vote for Brexit means severe cuts to working class living standards, why should a vote based on lies and deception be respected?
  • The Labour Party is assuming that there are progressive answers possible to the questions posed through accepting Brexit.
  • It assumes that there can be a “successful” Brexit.
  • It assumes that the protection of industry and jobs and fair taxation of multinationals is possible in Brexitland.

But Brexit puts up barriers to trade and it puts up barriers to effective taxation of the wealthy and international companies.  Were a Labour Government outside the EU how could they enlist the support of other European countries to increase taxation of the rich?

When France increased its taxation in 2012 to 75% on those earning above €100,000 the number moving abroad jumped 40 per cent.  Between 2000 and 2014 42,000 millionaires left France, many of them moving to London, and particularly to South Kensington, referred to by some as Paris’s 21st arrondissement.  Many of its banks and its bankers also moved, although thanks to Brexit this has now stopped.

Inside the EU such tax increases have a greater chance of being coordinated.  Outside, the competitive position of weaker countries often drives them to lower taxation on multinationals and the wealthy. And as we have seen, there are economic effects which are largely outside the control of Governments to prevent.  What they can do is take offsetting measures such as increased public expenditure and investment, and this is what Labour promises, but this can only be offsetting and the weakening of Britain’s capitalist economy also weakens the capacity to do this.

Of course Labour’s model of Brexit is very different from the declared objective of the Tories.  John McDonnell declares that “Labour will insist that any deal with the EU includes, at least as an interim, tariff-free Single Market access. Full Single Market access implies freedom of movement, as in Norway’s European Economic Area deal.”

Without the xenophobic hang-ups of the Tories Labour is happy to see free movement alongside as much access to the EU single market as the EU is prepared to allow.  This is one possible transitional deal that the advisors to big business, in the shape of ‘The Economist’ and “Financial Times’ are pointing to.  A transition that might, like those of Norway and Switzerland that were initially temporary, prove more permanent than first intended and that might be open as much to a transition back to full membership as complete exit.

However, once again all this will be in the gift of the EU.  All the calculations involved in a permanent divorce apply to such a separation – whether the interests of the remaining EU are better protected and advanced by accepting a relationship with Britain on these terms or whether a clean break is preferable.  Once again it is necessary to note that given its size, Britain is not Norway or Switzerland and it makes no sense for it to pay into the EU and be subject to its rules without any say in those rules.  Such a transitional arrangement is the very opposite of ‘taking back control’.

Whenever we look at the relatively weak position that Britain is in we can also see the weakness of the Tory Brexit policy – when even speeches at Conservative party conferences occasion steep declines in the currency.  The pound has hit a 168-year low and this is before Article 50 is triggered, the lousy terms of the exit start to be revealed and the two-year exit timetable has been exhausted.

This weakness is also reflected in the political weakness of those seeking Brexit.  UKIP, which spearheaded this policy, is in disarray.  The political leadership of Brexit in the Tory party includes someone who was considered a star before imploding and heading for obscurity before being given a plum job at the Foreign Office; another who was already discredited and already in obscurity before being given a job in Trade, and a third who was also a twice loser in contests to lead the Tory party.  The majority of MPs are opposed to Brexit but they have no idea of how to make popular a campaign against Brexit that would make its reversal legitimate.  That task lies with others.

The referendum was largely portrayed in the media as an inter-Tory dispute and the struggle that big business will put up to resist Brexit and/or to deliver a ‘soft’ Brexit may also seek to do so primarily through that parry.  Once again the struggle could come to be seen as primarily an inter-Tory argument.

Considerations that this may severely damage the Tory party are secondary to the necessity that the struggle against Brexit is open, clear and honest.  In this sense the instincts of the primarily young Remain Voters who demonstrated and signed petitions immediately after the referendum were all these things, which an inter-Tory dispute will not be.

In order for the Labour Party to truly defend working people it is necessary for Brexit to be stopped – to nullify the dire effects that no amount of negotiation for a ‘soft’ Brexit may put right.  If this is to be done it must be done openly or charges that democracy is being subverted will appear to have some truth.  The defeat of Brexit is still possible but it should be done openly and on a progressive basis of defending the living standards of working people; defending EU workers and other immigrants who live in Britain; defending those British people who live in other EU countries and in defence of international unity.  A lying, xenophobic referendum result with reactionary consequences deserves no respect and should be reversed.

Back to part 4

Forward to part 6

Crisis? What Crisis? part 4 – a progressive unity against Brexit

brexit market imageIn response to Brexit a call has gone up for a progressive alliance of the Labour Party, Greens, Liberals, SNP and Plaid Cymru.  However, not only is such a call fixated on parliamentary numbers, which after all isn’t an inconsequential consideration, but more importantly it is politically illiterate and dangerous.

The Liberal Democrats are fresh from giving a leg up to the Tories through the ConDem coalition and partook in the harshest imposition of austerity that almost everyone seems to believe contributed much to the Brexit vote among workers.

The Greens are in open competition with Labour and cause many people no end of confusion about their apparently more radical policies on certain issues.  This confusion arises in those who have no understanding of politics as fundamentally constructed by class and by some on the radical left who have no organic relationship to the working class but substitute a series of single issue campaigns for this in order to give them a milieu in which to operate.  So long have they been doing this that some then come to judge the Greens on their purported position on these single issues they spend their political lives pursuing.

Marxists may call the Green movement petty bourgeois, which may seem insulting or simply untrue of the class background of many Green members and supporters but there is no reason for believing that they are any different than, for example, the Irish Greens.  When the Irish Green Party voted at their conference to enter Government with the main capitalist party Fianna Fail they cried, and then they cried again when they got hammered at the following election.  In between they bailed out the bankers when the banking system went bust, shifted the banks debts on to the Irish people for a couple of generations and inflicted damaging austerity on the Irish people to pay for it.  When it comes to more than single issues – when it comes to the state and the whole of society – the class nature of a party’s politics matters.

The SNP and Plaid Cymru are nationalists, and lest we forget it, it is nationalism which was and is the overarching ideology of Brexit.  Of course Scottish and Welsh nationalists will claim that their nationalism is not like that of the Tories or UKIP but then everyone thinks their nationalism is different from everyone else’s.  In the last analysis the only justification for opposing Brexit is that of workers unity across nations, of which the EU is the capitalist version but which forms the existing framework within which such unity is best advanced.  Nationalism inevitably puts forward the view that there is a national interest that comes first.  Such a view is compatible with membership of the EU but not with the interests and policies socialists seek to pursue.

The strength of nationalism in Scotland weakens the Labour Party and has strengthened the Tories who face a reduced threat from Labour without its phalanx of Scottish MPs.  This is as much a result of the rottenness of Labour as it is of nationalist strength but much of the Scottish left has run away from the task of fighting the former in order to facilitate building the latter.  Now that the Labour Party cannot be slagged off as ‘red Tories’ the role of nationalism is clearer and the role of left nationalism in preventing workers’ unity more evident and also more reprehensible.

This Left, which includes its English based supporters, has not stopped to ponder why a so-called move to the left in Scotland has led to an SNP administration supported by Rupert Murdoch while Jeremy Corbyn receives ridicule and scorn from Murdoch’s newspapers.  Yet, having just read the free book from Verso press, some of the New Left Review cheerleaders of this nationalist left are calling for Corbyn to follow the Scottish example!  In this they compare the SNP’s opposition to Trident favourably with the split in the Labour Party (mostly in parliament) but ignore the fact that the SNP want to shift Trident doon the road and Corbyn wants to scrap it.

The current case for unity amongst all British workers against Brexit and the xenophobia it entails could not be stronger and any left case for nationalist division could hardly be weaker.  From being in some sort of progressive vanguard even some nationalist supporters now seem to be saying the opposite – that Scottish independence is justified by it lagging behind English radicalisation (see Cat Boyd in the latest issue of ‘Red Pepper’).  It would appear, sitting from Ireland, that some would rather be failed Scottish radicals than part of a more successful British movement.  But this again is perfectly in tune with the left nationalist view that workers in Scotland and those in England & Wales have separate interests that cannot be reconciled, except perhaps with a good border between them.

A second approach to the Brexit vote is, in effect, to say – who cares about the answer, what’s more important is the pain.  So the alienation of marginalised and excluded working class communities typically placed in North-East England has to be understood and not condemned and we must seek to relate to these workers.  In anything I’ve read it’s never very clear what it is that is different in what socialists should be saying to these voters to what it should be saying to the millions of workers who voted Remain.  The latter have been pilloried as belonging to some sort of cosmopolitan elite cosseted in decent jobs who can’t be identified as an object of a sympathy that verges on pity.  In fact the only part of the labour movement calling for a different approach to these workers is the Labour Party right wing who hypocritically castigated Corbyn for not giving 10 out of 10 to the EU but now want increased immigration controls that panders to the worst prejudices of Brexit voters.

Supporters of this approach, who call on socialists not to condemn workers who voted for Brexit, take their own moralistic view, seeing them as somehow more authentic than others.  It is on occasions like this that the Marxist approach of not moralising about politics at all means you don’t fall into either condemning or feeling sorry for them.  It should of course be easier to do this when it is appreciated that these workers are not solely to blame for voting Brexit and their role has generally been exaggerated.

Using the definition of class that categories us into A,B C1, C2, D and E one blogger has calculated that the majority of Leave voters were A, B C1 and while C2, D and E were more likely than others to vote Leave they were also more likely not to vote at all.  This writer also argues that if C2, D and E working class EU citizens had been allowed to vote the result could easily have been different.

This blog here makes the same case – that “while C2, D and E voters (or the poorest classification of respondents) voted in greater numbers in favour of Leave than their ABC1 counterparts – 64% to 47% – so-called ‘middle and upper class’ (or ABC1) voters provided 10,349,804 (59.4%) of the final 17,427,384 votes for Leave.”  In other words “a huge amount of C2DE voters very likely did not even show up at the poll, whether from disbelief or indifference—upwards of 48%, according to the projections. And when weighted for equalised proportional turnout (72%) for all social ‘grades’, the numbers seem to “confirm these two realities at once—with 46.35% of ABC1 and 53.7% C2DE voting for Leave, we see both the greater number of ‘working class’ votes for Leave and their incredible proximity to votes from higher echelons .  . . That is to say, while there has been much hemming and hawing about the retrogression of ‘working class values’, all things considered, the result actually owed itself to a cross-class alliance for the ages.”

And this is true whether one accepts, or more accurately, does not accept the objectivity and truthfulness of this way of categorising the population.  Of course the argument that the Remain vote was also “a cross-class alliance” can be made.  But the starting point for determining one’s position on the referendum is, what is the nature of the issue and how can working class interests best be defended?  Taking an independent view of the question doesn’t mean ignoring what other forces are doing but it does mean identifying the working class’s independent interests.

There is also the rather more obvious fact that the cross-class alliance of the Leave campaign was led by UKIP and the most right wing elements of the Tory party who were behind a xenophobic, racist and anti-immigrant campaign.  On the other hand Jeremy Corbyn explicitly refused to become part of an inclusive campaign for Remain consisting of Tories and Liberal Democrats.  For his trouble he was variously ignored or pilloried by the media and slaughtered by the majority of Labour MPs when defeat gave them an opportunity to use this as an excuse for their coup against him.

The essential point that has been made however is firstly that many workers did vote for Brexit, from reactionary motives, and this is a problem.  If like me you come from the North of Ireland you will have absolutely no difficulty in accepting and recognising that many workers are reactionary. The problem in Britain isn’t new there either.  Secondly, the question is, with what social force do you address this?  And the answer is by building upon those opposed to xenophobia and racism who have rejected appeals to nationalism.  In other words the working class component of the Remain voters.

Unfortunately some on the left have decided that Brexit is not so much a problem as an opportunity and believe that what matters is not the reactionary politics that motivated workers to vote on xenophobic lines but that these workers are alienated and oppressed.  In other words, the problem is more important than the solution and the question is more important than the answer.  Their saving grace, if this is actually the case, is that this doesn’t seem to mean very much in terms of their political approach – they continue to peddle the same politics as before.

In the next post I will identify some mistaken views that seek to relate to those workers who voted Brexit – as if they should be the starting point of an alternative.

Back to part 3

Forward to part 5

Crisis? What Crisis? part 3 – down, down, deeper and down

Sterling as a picture of the future

Sterling as a picture of the future

Tory lies over Brexit and the sunlit vistas of UK sovereignty that lie ahead are nothing new.  Uncriticised by the Tory press and a BBC that is both scared of them and shares their broad establishment understanding of society, they have been able to present themselves as the only trusted stewards of a successful economy, with only its fruits perhaps needing some fairer distribution, now that they are the workers’ friend.

But the Tories have lied to themselves and everyone else that the British economy is in rude health, especially when compared to the sclerosis of the rest of Europe.  They quote statistics showing that real Gross Domestic Product has grown faster in Britain than in the bigger EU economies such as Germany, France and Italy.  What they don’t say is that GDP per person was no higher in 2014 than 2007 and that the British are no richer compared to the EU 15 average now than they were 15 years ago.  In fact Britain lags behind Spain and France on this measure.

In order for Britain to grow it has needed to increase its population and workforce, including through immigration, and make the working class work longer hours while reducing their wages, which declined by 10% between 2008 and 2014.  Productivity relative to the EU average has fallen to 90% so that output per hour is 25% below French or German levels.  In only one other region apart from London is GDP per head in excess of the EU average.  This means only 27% of Britons are wealthier than the EU average; but we are expected to believe that the EU is holding Britain back.

The Tories (and Blair before them) have relied on a high debt, low wage and low skilled economy that compensated for poor productivity by increased exploitation, symbolised by zero hours contracts on the one hand and long working hours on the other.  Such a model has no need for a comprehensive education system that can provide a highly educated and skilled workforce for employment across a wide number of economic sectors.

Increased exploitation of labour substitutes for increased capitalist investment in technology, which is mirrored in less state investment in infrastructure.   One example of the result of this is the threat of the lights going out because of a shrinking margin of spare power generation capacity.  This in turn leads to huge subsidies to foreign states to supply nuclear power that may keep the lights on – in the shape of Hinkley Point C and the French and Chinese state companies involved in its development. The lack of infrastructure puts a further drag on the development of productivity and the growth of living standards.

Brexit is being sold as the opportunity to improve this far from outstanding economy but leaving the EU will discourage the foreign investment that helps bail out Britain’s chronic deficit in trade.  Exit from the EU will diminish the financial sector and its acquisition of profits from around the world as bankers already threaten to pull out.  Trade will face new barriers and even old Tories like Michael Heseltine have laughed that there are new markets that no one has so far spotted to replace those that will be lost in Europe.

Devaluation of sterling will hit peoples’ living standards, reducing the domestic market just as foreign markets become harder to enter, while lower economic activity will reduce the capacity of the state to spend on infrastructure. A poorer Britain with reduced foreign earnings will have pressure placed on its interest rates, which will rise to cover the cost of financing a state whose currency is falling.

This risk was made clear by a market analyst quoted in the ‘Financial Times’ as saying that sterling is behaving more like an emerging markets currency and that there is no idea what its true level is. If a foreigner lent £100 to Britain, costing them say $120 in their own currency, it will mean that when she’s paid back the pounds she receives could be worth only $100.  So how much more interest on the loan would she require to protect herself against this risk?  And what sort of investment could warrant borrowing at this rate of interest?

Britain has created an economic model based on sweating its workforce.  Karl Marx noted the limits to exploitation by lengthening the working day 150 years ago, limits again being exposed today by Britain’s declining productivity.  And anyone believing that the Tories will move to create a high wage economy that involves upgrading the skills and talents of the workforce will have to explain the latest genius idea of promoting grammar schools, which relies on improving the education of a few by shiting on the rest.

An economic logic will apply to Brexit regardless of whether the Tory party realises it or not just as we have already seen its political logic unfold despite what some might have believed it was all about.  In last Monday’s ‘Financial Times’ some ‘liberal’ Brexit supports complained that they wanted an ‘open’ Brexit and not the nasty Tory variety.  But this is just as innocent of reality as the supporters of a ‘left’ exit – Lexit – thinking that a decisive move to national capitalism could be anything other than reactionary.

The economic logic of Brexit suggests increased unequal competition with other much larger state formations, such as the EU and the US, not to mention China, a la Hinkley Point C.  One weapon of the smaller and weaker is a race to the bottom with reduced corporate taxation as one example, already signalled by the late chancellor George Osborne, but this is not a credible strategy away from the current model.

There are therefore no grounds for believing that an interventionist state acting on behalf of workers will arise from any change in approach by the Tories.  However it is not excluded that the inevitable crisis that Brexit will induce could give rise to a change in direction to a more interventionist approach in order, as we have said in the previous post, to allow “a Tory government (to) save capitalism from itself.”

Unfortunately the Tories have tied themselves to those sections of the electorate least supportive of this approach; those who support lower taxes and a less interventionist state, unless its intervention is into other peoples’ countries.  The best hope of such an outcome is the influence of those sections of British big business that are tied to the Tories who do provide a constituency for such an approach.

However the weakness of a stand-alone Britain doesn’t help such change.  So for example, it is reported that the Tories may be thinking of devising restrictions on foreign investment, which had more potential within the EU than outside, but this idea will conflict with Britain’s more isolated situation and greater need for outside funding.  Their idea of increased state intervention will also be restricted by budgetary pressures arising from the weakened tax base of an ‘independent’ Britain.

As Boffy’s comment to my last post made clear, state intervention in the economy is not by definition left wing, despite much of the left’s identification of Keynesianism with socialism.  There are all manner of right wing Keynesian interventions so a Tory lurch to increased state intervention in the economy is perfectly compatible with increased authoritarian intervention by the same state with both masquerading as the workers’ friend; or more pointedly as the British workers’ friend.

The Tories newly found working class agenda, such as it is, cannot accommodate any sort of workers’ identification with their brothers and sisters beyond their own nation.   Xenophobia thus unavoidably defines the anti-working class core of the new Tory ‘left’ agenda.  This rabid xenophobia is perfectly compatible with false concerns for British workers but utterly incompatible with workers’ real interests, British or otherwise.  The Tories can feign sympathy with all sorts of working class concerns but not with its interest in solidarity across nations.  This appears most immediately in the shape of immigrant workers and, as a member of the EU, in the shape of all those workers who have moved from the EU who have now almost become hostage to the wilder delusions of the Tory right.

The centrality of workers unity was recognised by Marx long ago when he noted the two principles separating the socialists of his day from others:

“The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. 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. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

No matter how any right wing force attempts to portray itself as the workers’ friend this is always the one area in which they can make no pretence and, in this failure, expose their true character – that they cannot accept never mind promote the identity of the interests of the workers of their own country with the interests of the workers of others.

The nationalists in Scotland in the shape of the SNP have at least temporarily succeeded in fooling many that the interests of Scottish workers are somehow radically different from those in England and Wales, although the rise of Corbynism has demonstrated that in the rest of Britain there might be more of a fight against nationalist division.  It is noteworthy that this blog draws to our attention the SNP’s approach to immigration set out in its White Paper for independence, which was a points based system, rather like that of those British nationalists like Boris Johnson.  But then nationalism is nationalism, innit?

Back to part 2

Forward to part 4

Crisis? What Crisis? part 1 – blinded by ideology

cameronOne of the very few things that has made me smile in the whole Brexit debacle has been the leader writers and columnists of the financial press, including the ‘Financial Times’ and ‘The Economist’.  Brexit is almost universally regarded by these people as a disaster and some have blamed David Cameron for being a reckless gambler and bringing them to their current predicament.

Yet it is these same commentators, who represent some of the most class conscious spokespeople for capitalism, who supported the Tories in the last election and who, when they did so, supported the only people who could make this whole disaster for them possible.  It is normal for these self-regarding experts, who prize their analytical capacity and steely objectivity, to damn the Left in any of its forms for being ideologically driven but in this case it is abundantly clear that they have been blinded by the own ideology.  If Cameron gambled, they gambled on the gambler – one derivative they shouldn’t have bought.

These commentators and the markets they service are now being dragged kicking and screaming to a ‘hard’ Brexit while their Tory favourites declare, in complete stupidity, that there is no such thing as a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit.  Not only are the Tories not pushing for as open a trade relationship as possible and selling the importance of this to their electorate, while making vaguer and vaguer promises on limiting immigration; they are doing the opposite – signalling the primary importance of halting free movement of people and acceptance of worse trade terms from the EU as a result.  The drastic restrictions on immigration floated by some Tories are also not in the interests of big capitalists, who want as wide a labour market as possible from which to hire and fire.

One of Cameron’s allies in Cabinet is supposed to have said of the referendum that “it will be all about jobs and the economy and it won’t even be close.”  Now it’s all about immigration.  Except of course that beneath the political fog lies a reality that will bite regardless – and it will still include jobs and the economy.

Not that this reality is understood by everyone on the left.  In a monumental tribute to how ideology can also blind some ‘Marxists’ to reality we can turn to the most recent considerations on Brexit from the Socialist Workers Party.

This organisation supported Brexit and thought that, if it was all for the best possible reasons, changing one letter and calling it Lexit would make a difference.

It defends, if that is actually the right word, its support for Brexit by saying this was for two reasons – “first, and as a matter of principle, we oppose the EU as an engine for imposing neoliberalism. . .” – although it doesn’t then go on to explain just how this ‘principle’ did any good.  Or how one of the most neoliberal states in the EU – Great Britain – was an alternative.

The second reason is that “Brexit would cause a major crisis for British and, to a lesser degree, world capitalism.  This latter judgement has been vindicated.”  So it would appear that the SWP is happy it called Brexit right.

Regular readers of the blog will note that this view of crisis is one that I have criticised over a number of posts, starting with this one.  It is based on a view that since capitalism will be weakened and exposed by crises, and crises provides the opportunity to overthrow capitalism, we should be all in favour of such crises because we can demonstrate that we are right to condemn capitalism and right that it must be overthrown.  Such a view starts from what is bad for the system, not what is good for the working class; from what you are against and not from what you are for; does not understand that we have had plenty of capitalist crises and will have plenty more and none of them have so far brought about socialist revolution; that for crises to be the catalyst for socialism there must be some prior conditions in existence, including the level of the working class’s social power and class consciousness.  Failing all this, the desire for capitalist crisis is just light-minded political vandalism, a million miles from working class people who do not want to be the victims of such crises.

But the SWP can’t even get this story right.  They claim that Brexit will cause a major crisis for the British and also, to a lesser extent, for world capitalism but believe that this may or may not have an impact on economic growth; in other words on the accumulation of capital and everything that goes with it – profits, wages, jobs and standard of living etc.  So we are expected to believe that Brexit will cause a major crisis but it may not have any economic impacts!

It’s as if they don’t want to admit to the consequences of their actions, in so far as they bear a tiny responsibility for Brexit, but don’t want to appear as delusional as the Tory xenophobes who claim there will be no bad economic results.  For the SWP, their light-mindedness sticks out a mile when they simply state that “the truth is that one can argue the toss about this.”  Well maybe they should have argued the toss before Brexit and told their supports just what the economic consequences of Brexit might be.

Denying reality now involves ignoring falls in the value of sterling, which increases the cost of living for workers.  The external current account deficit is running at 6 per cent, the largest since the second world war, illustrating the impact of higher import costs on workers and also the funding needs to cover it that might drive up interest rates.  On top of this we can consider the effects on jobs of disruption to trade and investment arising from reduced access to exports, dearer imported inputs and reduced foreign investment.

Once again it’s important to state that there is no point ignoring the realities of capitalism and the harmful effects on workers of its difficulties if you don’t have an alternative to defend workers’ interests when these difficulties occur.  Socialists do not declare ‘bring it on’ to capitalist crises, not least because capitalism has never lost the knack of ‘bringing it on’ all by itself.

If the working class had strong, militant union organisation ready to challenge companies making pay cuts or ready to sponsor the take-over of companies declaring redundancies then it would be in a better position to defend itself.  If the working class had developed its own cooperative, worker-owned sector and was in a position to extend its scale when capitalism suffered a setback then a major crisis might herald radical change.  But it isn’t and it faces economic dislocation with a capitalist state headed by a governing party hell-bent on increasing neoliberal policies.

to be continued