‘Lexit’ is a reactionary Stalinist hangover

June 14, 2016 at 9:13 am (Europe, internationalism, left, Marxism, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, SWP)

Reblogged with the permission of Camilla Bassi, of Anaemic On A Bike:

My interview in Jungle World on the British radical Left and Europe


Jungle World is a radical left-wing German weekly newspaper published in Berlin, which is known for its anti-nationalist and cosmopolitan politics.

The following is the original transcript of my forthcoming interview (out on Thursday 16th June 2016) in Jungle World, see http://jungle-world.com.

In your Blog you have criticized the position of the SWP and Lexit campaign. Can you briefly describe why a part of the British (radical) left is arguing for leaving the EU and why this is wrong in your opinion?

Dominant sections of the British Trotskyist Left, and surviving Stalinist currents, compose the Lexit campaign. The legacy of Stalinism largely explains why so-called Trotskyist organisations like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and Socialist Party (SP) have effectively adopted a leftist nationalist position – a hangover from the Stalinist idea of “socialism in one country”. One further feature of the SWP’s and SP’s position is their warped calculation of ‘Britain out’: that conditions will be objectively better for the British working class because there will be a crisis in the ruling Conservative Party government. This is warped since the mainstream Brexit campaign, if it succeeds, will undoubtedly be a huge victory for the political Right (regardless of any reshuffle of its leaders). The hegemonic politics of ‘Britain out’ is anti-immigration, racist nationalism. There’s simply no way round this.

The Lexit campaign is mobilising the nation-state as a bulwark against the evils of neoliberal global capitalism. For sure, the EU is a bureaucratic and undemocratic capitalist club of bosses, which is hostile to immigrants and refugees. But as socialists we are not crudely anti-capitalist; we are not crudely anti-globalisation. We are for sublating the progressive elements of capitalism out of capitalism; we are for an alternative globalisation. As such, on the EU question, our political response should be: stay in and fight for a fully democratic workers’ Europe. This is congruent with the tradition of Marxism (from Marx and Engels, through to Gramsci, Lenin, and Trotsky): for a socialist “United States of Europe”. Capital seeks globalisation, it seeks to overcome national borders; let’s not forget that as capitalism’s gravediggers, so do we but on our own terms! It is incongruous and anti-dialectical to pose as internationalist and yet succumb to nationalism, which is what Lexit does.

The upcoming EU referendum has revived nationalist sentiment and postcolonial nostalgia. Is the rhetoric of independence related to the British colonialist history? Does the (radical) left have an answer to that? What is particularly “British” in this discourse and where do you see analogies with other European countries, where anti-EU populism, both left and right wing, grew in the past decade?

Since 1945 racist anti-immigration discourse in Britain has rarely referenced biological inferiority, rather immigrants have been racialised as the cause of the socio-economic problems of ordinary Britons. English/British nationalism is dependent upon the idea of ‘race’: “an island race” which is distinct and apart from Europe. This imagined community utilises the past supposed greatness of the British Empire. A present insecurity in the national psyche, fuelled by a politics of austerity and a scapegoating of ‘the Other’, drives a resurgence in the allegiance to the national psyche: ‘Britain was great, let’s make Britain great again’. Ironically the Lexit campaign, while ostensibly for open borders, totally blunts its ability to challenge this racist nationalism.

The British situation is also very much part of a contemporary and pervasive European trend of anti-EU populism and exclusivist and racist nationalism, which positions the nation-state as a rampart against the perils of globalisation. This is a populism that seeks to cement space and reverse time. This is a deeply reactionary throwback of which a potential disintegration of the EU would be a part.

What role does the refugee crisis play in the referendum campaign? On the one side the right wing fears the refugees, on the other side the left sees the EU as a system killing people who are seeking protection or a better life… Why is it possible for the left to agree with the the right and far right in this question?

Absolutely core to the mainstream Brexit campaign is an implicit and sometimes explicit racism and xenophobia to immigrants and refugees, specifically their racialisation as the cause of socio-economic woes, which leaves the government’s politics of austerity unquestioned. The primary argument of the Lexit campaign is that the EU is neoliberalism incarnate, which leaves our national government ‘off the hook’. Secondary arguments of Lexit follow: the EU is an enemy of immigrants and refugees, and a ‘Britain out’ vote will destabilise the government. It is not a case of the far Right and the far Left agreeing on the question of immigrants and refugees, but rather that both place blame on the EU and negate national bourgeois responsibility.

Let´s focus more on the left. Why does the British and European left rediscover nationalism right now? Is it only anti-EU-rhetoric or is there more about that?

Romantic anti-globalisation has long been a current on the Left. This includes the crass dichotomy of ‘local good’ and ‘global bad’. In this schema, the nation-state forms the context spatiality of ‘the local’ whereas the EU of ‘the global’. Karl Marx once said of reactionary, romantic anti-capitalists that, it is “as ridiculous to yearn for a return to that original fullness as it is to believe that with this complete emptiness history has come to a standstill”. Add to this the legacy of Stalinism and its thesis of “socialism in one country” and one has a thoroughly muddled left-wing nationalism. Central to decent socialist politics is a commitment to a fully democratic, alternative globalisation, with international workers’ solidarity that brings down borders rather than erects or cements them: a global democratic union of localities that sublates the radical possibilities born from global capitalism – its infrastructure, wealth, resources, and gravediggers – out of capitalism into an equal and just society.

Who are the people that vote for leave? Can you characterise this group? Do working class interests play a role in the debate?

The key battle in amongst the working class in England and Wales (Scottish voters are, in the main, likely to vote to stay in the EU). The working class in England and Wales have traditionally voted for Labour, but in recent years have increasingly been attracted to far Right parties like UKIP. Why? This trend is a consequence of the Labour Party drifting rightwards under Tony Blair, the weakness and incompetence of the organised far Left, the defeats of the labour movement, and the mainstreaming of racist anti-immigration discourse. This sociological group will ultimately determine the vote.

In an open letter to Britain Slavoj Žižek writes: “The nation-state is not the right instrument to confront the refugee crisis, global warming, and other truly pressing issues. So instead of opposing Eurocrats on behalf of national interests, let’s try to form an all-European left.” Is that a possibility/solution? What do you think about new movements such as DiEm25 launched by Y. Varoufakis a couple of week ago, which not only are decidedly pro Europe but claim to make “another Europe” possible?

Both Žižek and Varoufakis are generally correct. A pan-European Left which can fight for another Europe, a workers’ Europe, is absolutely central for our class – locally and globally. Is it possible? Yes, absolutely: by mobilising connections through labour movement struggles, trade unions, political left organisations, and so on. The DiEM25 Manifesto is right to assert: “The EU will either be democratized or it will disintegrate!”

Leon Trotsky’s ‘method of analysis’ back in 1917 is as astute then as it is today: “If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to ‘autonomous’ national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.” What the EU has constructed is not something we want to blindly bulldoze, its disintegration through a tsunami of racist and xenophobic nationalisms would be a terrible reversal of historical progress. As cosmopolitan internationalists, we are for, echoing Trotsky, a “United States of Europe – without monarchies, standing armies and secret diplomacy”!



  1. Steven Johnston said,

    Laughing all the way through, until I got to the punchline “stay and fight for a workers Europe”. Where do they get their ideas for these slogans? The DPRK?
    Seriously, the remain campaign as just as nationalistic and xenophobic and the left in that campaign also believe in a socialism in one country by voting for Corbyn.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Read Lenin’s ‘Left Wing Communism – An Infantile Disorder’

      • Steven Johnston said,

        Nope, I’m a Marxist not a Leninist. Lenin is a very boring writer, his “what is to be done?” is a 10th rate version of the manifesto.
        Good luck fighting for your “workers Europe”, though I’m not sure that is what Cameron and Osborne have in mind.

      • Jim Denham said,

        You’re not a Marxist, either Steven: read The Communist Manifesto, or Marx on Free Trade:


  2. Steven Johnston said,

    Haha, I’ve read that article on free trade and it completely blows away 99% of your arguements about staying in the EU! You argue that a Brexit would give capital a free reign and this is a bad thing, yet Marx argues that free trade is better than protectionism.
    But I’m glad Marx is easier to read and understand than Lenin and the above article.

    • Jim Denham said,

      I think you’ll find – assuming, against all the evidence so far, you’re capable of thought, Stephen – that Marx’s case against protectionism is a pretty conclusive case against leaving the EU. There can be no doubt as to where Marx would stand on the issue. And the Communist Manifesto makes the case conclusive:

      Marx writes (approvingly):

      “Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune(4): here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

      “The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.

      “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

      “The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers”.

  3. Steven Johnston said,

    Utter rubbish! Marx was interested in replacing capitalism with socialism and would not be interested in this trade bloc, next you’ll be arguing that Marx was for the NAFTA!

    I think you better go back and re-read it and be sure about what he supported that had happened (in history) and going forward what he wanted to happen.

    Step 1) Vote for Britain to stay in the EU
    Step 2) ?????
    Step 3) Socialism

    If I’m wrong, what is step 2 and please don’t say “Vote labour”.

    • Jim Denham said,

      You clearly haven’t the most rudimentary understanding of Marxism, Steven, even when the evidence is spelled out to you in black and white. You are seriously in need of an education in basic literacy and understanding: after that we can move on to the rudiments of Marxism.

      • Steven Johnston said,

        No answer then apart from insults. Just as I suspected.

      • Jim Denham said,

        Some people are only worthy of insults.

  4. Steven Johnston said,

    Reading your answers Jim, let me get one thing straight, but please remember I am not taking sides here. If a worker feels that the EU is failing to solve the problems that they face and mistakenly believe that by leaving the EU their lives would be improved, that makes them reactionary and racist?

    • Jim Denham said,

      First and foremost, a victim of false consciousness. But, objectively, yes: certainly reactionary and quite likely racist. I’d blame, first, however, the ruling class and the prevalent ideology of the society we all live in – including the craven role of the leaders of the labour movement.

      • Steven Johnston said,

        So all you lefties on the leave campaign are racists and reactionaries. Voting to stay in is progressive and socialist. So therefore David Cameron is a socialist.

  5. mark taha said,

    One-if there’s only one socialist country, then isn’t socialism in one country unavoidable in practice?
    Two-the Left in Britain were generally for No in 1975-including the groups mentioned.

    • Jim Denham said,

      1: as Lenin realised, and explained, a single isolated socialist nation will not survive long without spreading the revolutions

      2. The majority of the left (with the honourable exception of Workers Fight) was wrong in 1975: it’s as simple as that.

      “The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All old-established national industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed. They are dislodged by new industries, whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations, by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe. In place of the old wants, satisfied by the production of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes. In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.

      “The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

    • Steven Johnston said,

      Mark please, surely no one believes in that anymore? Socialism is a worldwide movement and cannot exist in one country.
      Yes, in 1975 the left were against the EU and were racist and reactionary, Ted Heath and the conservatives were for it and were progressive and socialist. Though I could be wrong on the last part.

  6. Steven Johnston said,

    Good comeback Jim! So glad I don’t belong to that group! 😉

    • Jim Denham said,

      They wouldn’t have accepted you into membership, at your present level of education.

      “To Leave Error Unrefuted is to Encourage Intellectual Immorality”:

      • Steven Johnston said,

        Oh I could never join any group that would have me as a member.
        But come on Jim, tell me 10 things that you believe are socialist, but really aren’t.
        I’ll start you off

        1) Vote labour
        2) re-nationalise the railways

        Carry on…

      • Jim Denham said,

        Take Trotsky’s advice, Steven, and Learn To Think:


  7. Steven Johnston said,

    But I agree with the points raised here, don’t you?


    As a Trot, can you tell me which one you think people should die, even women and children, for holding?

    But back to the EU debate, so Jim, so the more anti-EU you are, the more racist and reactionary you are? The more pro-EU you are, the more progressive and socialist you are? But what if you are neither for or against the EU but for socialism and nothing but?

  8. Glasgow Working Class said,

    The EU is a corrupt institution created by a very clever self serving bourgeoisie. And you cannot fault them in getting away with lining their pockets with taxpayers money. But we have a vote now and a chance to bring the lot of them tumbling down. Unfortunately if they do tumble they will no doubt have set themselves up with huge pension benefits and get away with it.

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