Newly-elected Labour NEC member Rhea Wolfson interviewed by the Alliance for Workers Liberty‘s paper Solidarity:
Congratulations on your election to Labour’s NEC. What do you see as your priorities now?
The first thing is to see that the recommendations from the Chakrabarti Report are implemented. The Labour Party needs clear and transparent procedures for individuals and organisations accused of misconduct. I am particularly concerned about the suspensions of Wallasey Labour Party and Brighton, Hove and District Party. Those Labour Party organisations need to be reassured that any accusations made against them are investigated promptly and properly.
A number of Labour Party members have been expelled for being associated with Workers’ Liberty. Is this reasonable?
I oppose political expulsions. We should recognise that there are many strands of socialist opinion and Labour will be stronger if we accept that. Minimally we should expect that the Labour Party abides by the principles of natural justice in disciplinary matters, that those accused are listened to, that processes are clear and transparent, that there is an appeals procedure.
Some of the problems come from the Compliance Unit. Is there any role for this organisation?
Perhaps – if it operates using clear rules and regulations. No part of the Party should work on the basis that it can operate outside of a clear set of rules. In particular, those accused of misconduct should be able to see evidence which is said to exist against them.
Personally I have another problem because I am getting a lot of abuse through Twitter. I have had received a lot of unpleasant comment since the NEC election results were announced. There are no clear guidelines or mechanisms for me to try to stop this sort of abuse which may come from other Party members.
One of the live issues for the Labour left is what we should do about the anti-Corbyn right-wing MPs. Do you think we should deselect them?
Jeremy Corbyn is building a vibrant movement of half a million Labour Party members. Corbyn is uniting the membership. The onus is on others to show they are not harming or splitting the Party.
The relationship between the PLP and the membership has clearly been damaged. I hope it can be repaired and for that we need open political discussion and debate.
Reselection is a powerful tool. It should be used with respect and care, and not with abuse. It is not a threat. It is a democratic process.
What should the priorities of a future Labour government be?
We should pursue an anti-austerity programme. We must invest in public services to promote growth. We should borrow in order to invest. And we should increase taxation on the wealthy.
You made a strong speech at a recent Lewisham Momentum meeting set up to discuss the problem of ‘left’ anti-Semitism. What should be done about this very real problem?
We need open debate on the issue. The Lewisham Momentum meeting was a start. Although some of the contributions were shocking, I think they were not made from hate – and poor comments were challenged in the meeting.
The left needs to recognise that the Jewish Community does not feel welcome. The rhetoric of anti-Zionism is off-putting. There are progressive Zionist organisations we can and should work with.
Based on a pamphlet from the Alliance for Workers Liberty:
There is a buzz about “Corbynomics”. That’s positive. For the first time in ages the neo-liberal economic orthodoxies insisted on by the Blairite Labour Party are up for debate and discussion.
What Corbynomics means, though, isn’t clear yet. It remains to be defined, not just in detail but even in broad outline. The left should plunge into the debate – and be bold.
There is a problem about the lack of left-wing Labour economic policy for Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell to draw on. On ssues like the NHS, say, or renationalising the railways and Royal Mail, there is policy and they should do more to promote it – a lot more. On wider economic policy,there is more of a vacuum on the left, and a need for socialist ideas to fill it. But some of what Corbyn has said points in the wrong direction.
So, for instance, in the steel crisis, Corbyn and McDonnell said that if no capitalist buyer for Tata’s plants was found, they would support nationalising them – but only in order to find a buyer, and then sell them off again! Why didn’t they take the opportunity to argue to nationalise steel permanently, safeguard jobs, workers’ terms and conditions and communities, and run things differently to produce what we need for social purposes, like building housing, public service and public transport infrastructure?
In his speech on 11 March, John McDonnell talked about “fiscal responsibility” – presumably in order to buy space to attack George Osborne’s 16 March Budget cuts. But anxious promises that a future Labour government will balance current spending with current revenues – which Osborne had not done after six years as chancellor! – only feed the superstition that the economic problems since 2008 are due to the Blair and Brown governments overspending” on public services. They aren’t. The reason for the crash and the slump was giddy profiteering and speculating by the banks, not public spending.
Now, there is no special merit in a government increasing its debt burden. However, a rigid rule of balancing current spending with current revenues is foolish. As Simon Wren-Lewis, professor of economics at Oxford University and an adviser to McDonnell, has pointed out, “the rule is likely to make the deficit much less of a shock absorber, and so lead to unnecessary volatility in taxes or spending”. Also, since raising taxes is politically difficult, often slower in effect, and involves running uphill in times of economic crises which reduce the tax base, the rule has a built-in bias towards panic “volatility” (cuts) in spending. McDonnell has long campaigned against cuts. It looks as if he was pushed into these statements by the conservative elements in the Labour leadership office – part of a more general problem.
Who are the “wealth creators”?
Probably also a reflection of that section of the Labour leadership office were McDonnell’s off-key statements about “the wealth creators”.
“The Labour party are the representatives of the wealth creators — the designers, the producers, the entrepreneurs, the workers on the shop floor.” He claimed that his policy “has been welcomed this morning by [people] right across the business sector, business leaders, entrepreneurs as well as trade unions. The wealth creators have welcomed it”.
According to Mike Savage, a researcher at the LSE, inherited loot is 70% of all household wealth in Britain today, and is rising towards 80% by 2050. One of the most booming industries in slump-ridden Britain is the rise of “family offices”, where financiers work fulltime on managing and conserving the wealth of rich families. “Wealth creator” is conservatives’ pet term for capitalists. In fact capitalists’ riches come from the exploitation of the real wealth creators, the wage working class – or from active exploitation done not by the capitalists, but by their parents and grandparents.
McDonnell added “the workers on the shop floor” atthe end of his list of “wealth creators”, and put“designers” (i.e. some particularly skilled workers) at the start of the list. But the idea that a good economic policy can be pursued in alliance with the whole “business sector” is false. It can only prepare the way for a collapse when the CBI and other bosses’ groups denounce left-wing policies from Corbyn and McDonnell, which they will.
Is a National Investment Bank a left-wing policy?
Similarly, the leadership has focused on the call for a “National Investment Bank”, a publicly-owned bank able to borrow more cheaply than commercial banks because of its government backing, and lending for infrastructure and industrial projects.
The model must be the KfW, the German state’s federal investment bank, set up under the Marshall Plan in the 1940s and still going strong. It’s a safe, conservative model, maybe useful as a capitalist technique, but in no way anti-capitalist or socialist. The current chair of the KFW Supervisory Board is German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, Europe’s sternest austerity-hawk and central to the crushing of the anti-austerity rebellion in Greece.
There is nothing really socialist or even left-wing about the proposals for a Schäuble-bank in Britain. In fact it seems more like a way of avoiding a clear left policy about what to do about the banks.
Expropriate the banks!
Replacing capitalism with socialism requires public ownership, democratic and workers’ control and planning of the giant corporations and enterprises central to the economy. That is hardly even conceivable without an insurgent workers’ movement challenging the capitalist class on every level – which is what we must work for, rather than damping it down with appeals to “wealth creators”.
To even move in this direction requires transitional demands to campaign for. An obvious one to make central is public ownership and democratic control of the banks and high finance – a sector central to the economy’s functioning and to the economic chaos which has engulfed us over the last decade.
Banking should become a unified, democratically run public service providing banking, pensions and mortgages for everyone who needs them, and funds and resources for investment in public services and all areas of social need – instead of acting as an engine for devastating them while promoting inequality.
Public ownership of the banks has been official TUC policy since it was proposed by the Fire Brigades Union in 2012, but left dormant. We should fight to activate it, and make it active Labour policy too.
All this poses the question of what kind of Labour government we want. In place of an alternative capitalist administration, the left should set ourselves and shape our campaigning around the goal of a workers’ government, accountable to and drawing strength from the mass organisations of the labour movement, and willing and able to force through measures like expropriating the steel industry and the banks – and much more.
Motion for expropriation of the banks and a workers’ government, passed at Labour Representation Committee conference, 20 February 2016, here
Above: The Mirror joins in
By Martin Thomas
Labour’s right is trying to stage a coup. If the Corbyn leadership and the unions stand firm, and force the right wing to put up a candidate against Corbyn in a new leadership contest which Corbyn wins, this attempted coup could turn into a rout.
The way will be open for the unions to get through Labour Party conference democratic reforms which they have already put in draft form, and for the Labour Party really to be revived as a living movement, close to the unions, and with the right wing discredited.
But if it goes the other way – if the unions swing over to back a rotten “compromise”, or if Corbyn buckles – then the right wing be in pole position to shut down all the channels reopened in the last year. They won’t be able to do it all at once, but they will be well-placed to destroy today’s possibilities of creating a real working class alternative in British politics.
With their staged series of shadow cabinet resignations, Labour’s right have seized the chance of the dismay and disarray caused by the Brexit vote to try to reverse the Labour revival generated by the 2015 leadership contest and Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory.
As we go to press, they are staging a stand-off, an open split in the Labour Party, and using it to press Jeremy Corbyn to resign.
They could force a leadership contest by getting 50 MPs to nominate a rival candidate. For now at least they are not doing that, because if they do that then Jeremy Corbyn has to be on the ballot paper in the leadership election, and will probably win.
They want to force Corbyn to resign, confident that if he does then they can deny any left-wing candidate the MP nominations necessary to get on the ballot paper, and so deny the members a choice.
There is talk of setting up a rival Parliamentary Labour Party in opposition to the one led by Corbyn, or even splitting the Party outright. Probably this talk is designed to panic and pressure the Corbyn camp.
Some of the coup-plotters talk about the desirability of Labour wining the next General Election. But that is clearly low in their priorities. Otherwise they wouldn’t be splitting the party now. Otherwise they would shelve for now their criticisms of Corbyn and focus on unity against the shocked, dislocated, and divided Tories.
Some of them talk about unity. Some of them claim they have no difference with Corbyn’s politics, and praise his kind and friendly manner. They so value unity… that they make a split! When they claim to have no serious political grounds!
Some of them say Corbyn has been weak. Sometimes he has: often because he has constrained by them, or allowed anxiety to conciliate them to mute his message against the Tories.
The role in the script for those soft-soap types is to serve as cover for someone with a vaguely soft-left profile to emerge as front-person (while the hard right-wingers pull the levers in the background), and to try to persuade the members and the unions to support them as promising both unity and not-too-wrenching a reversal of Labour’s course. To be for 2016 what Neil Kinnock was for 1983.
Some of them talk about Jeremy Corbyn being poor in the Remain campaign. But what about them? What about the Labour figures who joined platforms with the Tories, copying Labour’s wretched policy in the Scottish separation referendum? What about Tom Watson and Ed Balls, who gave Leave a last-minute boost by saying that Labour should limit EU migration?
What about the Labour right-wingers from whom we heard nothing at all? What about Corbyn-baiter Gloria de Piero, whose safe-Labour constituency returned a 70% Leave vote? Or Stephen Kinnock, another Corbyn-baiter, who got a 57% Leave vote in his ultra-safe Labour area? Or Labour right-winger Alan Johnson, appointed to lead the Labour Remain campaign. Did you ever hear from him? His Hull area voted 68% Leave.
They wail and scream about one-third of Labour voters backing Leave. That is bad, but not surprising: one-third of Lib Dem voters, and one-third of SNP voters, also went for Leave. Especially not surprising when for many older Labour voters, anti-EUism has been a major and sometimes dominant thread in Labour politics for the last half-century; when the 2015 Labour election campaign organisers, backed by most of the anti-Corbyn plotters but not by Corbyn, produced a “campaign mug” inscribed “Control Immigration”; when most pro-EU Labour politics has had, for 20 years, the neoliberal face of Blair and Brown, blandly praising “modernisation” and ignoring the havoc caused by free-ranging global capital in many working-class communities.
The coup-plotters want to return to the same soft-Tory politics and undemocratic organisation which have gutted and enfeebled Labour’s base for decades now, and block the possibilities of a renewal.
Anti-Corbyn Labour MP Yvette Cooper talks about “broader arrangements to build a wider consensus” with the Tories in the management of Brexit. Corbyn’s own response to the 23 June decision has been weak – he should be more vigorous, from our angle, in defending freedom of movement and European ties, than the Tories now pressing the “Norway option” are from theirs – but these people want to be even weaker.
Stay strong! Stand firm! Labour members and trade unionists must rally in defence of our movement’s democracy.
After the Leave vote: stand up for migrants, defend Corbyn, fight for unity and solidarity
By Cathy Nugent
The vote to leave the EU reflects deep and growing social distress caused by years of vicious capitalist attacks against living standards, public services and democratic rights. But the vote was also a defeat for labour movements in Europe, for internationalism and for the left. The three million Europeans living, working and studying in the UK will now be fearful about their future. The response of socialists and the labour movement can only be to redouble our fight against austerity, defending migrants and for the socialist vision of a better world.
Any concessions by the left to the mood of national isolationism — such as justifying the strengthening of immigration controls — will be disastrous mistakes. Such policies would lead to more despair and a further shift away from the class politics we want the labour movement to champion and build support for in the working class — the politics of unity and social solidarity.
The referendum result has illuminated and deepened existing dangerous political fault lines and it has created new ones.
Cameron’s resignation will push the “star” demagogues of the Tory Leave campaign — Michael Gove and Boris Johnson — into government. This is a quasi-political-coup. The Brexit camp used the referendum, a vote on a limited issue, to lever themselves into governmental power. By bringing this referendum about Cameron is wholly to blame for his own fate. But getting rid of Cameron is not, as some on the left will argue, a victory for democracy! If a general election were soon held, as some on the left advocate, it would be fought under conditions of chaos, confusion, dismay and reaction. It would not be likely to result in a victory for the left.
The referendum result has already been used by the right-wing in the Labour Party as an opportunity to challenge the Corbyn leadership. We defend Corbyn! The huge democratic mandate on which he stood for and won the leadership of the Labour Party stands. Whatever the shortcomings of Labour’s campaign on the referendum, Corbyn was right not to tail-end the Tory’s big business message on Europe, was right not to appeal to traditional Labour voters on the basis of prejudice against migrants.
On 23 June, majorities in England and Wales, and not Scotland and Northern Ireland, ensured an exit from the EU. That in itself opened up more division in the working class of the “United Kingdom”. It has already given the green light to the SNP to push for a further referendum on independence for Scotland. While a move towards independence may be seen as making connections with Europe, it will also separate Scottish workers from others on this island.
Some of the vote for Leave was based on conservative nostalgia for a UK, or an England, that has never existed. Some of it was expression of outrage by working-class people against long-term insecurity and deprivation. But there was a broader social spectrum than this which saw the vote as a referendum on the general state of society. Not just the older, white working class, but also the younger under- and precariously-employed working class. And, anecdotally it seems, to a limited extent, people from more established migrant backgrounds also saw voting Leave as a way to express feelings of insecurity. And we have to face the uncomfortable truth that many who voted Leave were convinced by dominant racist themes of that campaign — that the way to resolve any and all of these social problems is by stopping or slashing inward migration.
The socialist message, that poverty and injustice can be overcome by working-class solidarity, has for many workers been eclipsed by another, meaner, much less ambitious and utterly false vision, which says that only the most limited improvements can be achieved, and then only by cutting out “foreigners”.
But none of the perceived social problems — crumbling public services, declining standards of living, worsening urban infrastructure, growing inequality — has anything to do with the EU, or the numbers of recent migrants. It was everything to do with capitalism — homegrown, UK capitalism.
Those of us who argued for a Remain vote on the basis of fighting for the working class — in all its diversity — across Europe, did not convince people of our argument. Our alternative — social solidarity and uniting workers across Europe — was not a strong enough message to win the day.
That is why the left that said “remain” must urgently come together in the weeks ahead to plan our response to these difficult times. We will oppose the right-wing attack on the leadership of the Labour Party. We will oppose accommodation to all forms of nationalism. We will defend migrants. We will fight for clear socialist solutions on the real issues facing the working class, whether they voted for Remain or Leave. It is especially important to take that message into the working-class communities which did vote for Remain. We will fight for unity across the working class – for jobs and housing, against privatisation and to rebuild the NHS.
If you want to join this urgent campaign, please get in touch. Or come to our Ideas for Freedom event on 7-10 July to discuss further with us.
Further responses to the referendum result will be posted soon.
Moishe Postone, a Marxist writer based at the University of Chicago and author of Time, Labour, and Social Domination, and Critique du fétiche-capital: Le capitalisme, l’antisémitisme et la gauche, was in London in May, and spoke to Martin Thomas from Solidarity about anti-semitism on the left and reactionary anti-capitalism.
I don’t feel as if I know the ins and outs of the situation in the Labour Party, so part of what I say may not be completely accurate. First of all, there is an extremely unfortunate polarisation with regard to the relationship of anti-Zionism and anti-semitism. It is a polarisation which makes political discourse very difficult. On the one hand, you have the Israeli Right, as, let’s say, exemplified by Netanyahu, who treat any criticism of Israel as being anti-Semitic. As far as I’m concerned, this is completely illegitimate.
Not all forms of anti-Zionism are anti-Semitic. There are too many people on the left, and I think it’s increasing, who argue that no form of anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic: that anti-Zionism is anti-Zionism, and anti-Semitism is something else. In the world of the metropolitan left, it is really quite remarkable that the left has almost nothing to say about Syria, had nothing to say about Saddam, has nothing to say about the fact that we are witnessing a complete crisis of the Arabic-speaking world. That crisis cannot simply be blamed on imperialism. There needs to be at least an attempt at serious analysis of why every single post-colonial Arab country is characterised by the secret police, and a secret police that would do the Stasi proud. Some of them were trained by the Stasi and the KGB, in fact.
The left seems to be unable to say anything about these issues. In a sense, and this is extremely hypothetical on my part, I think the more helpless the left feels conceptually on dealing with the world, the more it zeroes in on Israel-Palestine, because that seems to be clear: the last anti-colonial struggle.
There are some leftists who will not be happy for me to say this, but retrospectively one could say that the rise of the New Left globally implied a tacit recognition that the proletariat was not the revolutionary subject. I think that there was a move away from working-class politics. The new leftists had not only separated themselves from Communist Parties and social-democratic parties; even though they sympathised with the plight of workers, I think they were tacitly casting about for a new revolutionary subject. The colonised peoples fighting for freedom became the new revolutionary subject. I think that along with that there was a curious fusion, in part because of Vietnam, of the anti-colonial struggle and anti-Americanism.
One of the differences between the massive demonstrations against the American war in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s, and the massive demonstrations against the invasion of Iraq, is that for many — not all, but many — of those who fought against the Americans, in the 1960s, there was the idea of supporting a progressive revolution. The Americans, as the world’s imperial, but also conservative force, were hindering a positive historical development. So the demonstrations weren’t only against the Americans. They were also for the Vietnamese revolution — however one retrospectively evaluates that thinking as justified or not, and whether or not one thinks there should have been further criticism of the Vietnamese Communist Party. None of that existed in the massive demonstrations against the American invasion in Iraq. There were very few people who could on any level have regarded the Ba’ath regime under Saddam Hussein as representing anything progressive, and nobody talked that way. Anti-Americanism became coded as progressive. In a funny way, it is a remnant of the Cold War, spread among people who were actually not Cold Warriors.
Israel has become fused with America in the minds of many of these anti-imperialist leftists. An enormous amount of power is attributed to Israel which it actually doesn’t have. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who are colleagues of mine at the University of Chicago, claim that the American invasion of Iraq was against American interests, but pushed by the Israelis. Of course, they never state what Israeli interests were. Really, as both those writers had connections to Washington, their book was a brief that the State Department should listen to them more than to the neo-cons that they did listen to. Israel is, in a sense, the manipulator, and Washington is sometimes just a stupid dolt which is manipulated by these incredibly clever Jews. And at that point the picture of Zionism is anti-semitic. Zionism There were leftwing critiques of Zionism from the very beginning, frequently by communist Jews. Zionism was criticised by the communists as a form of bourgeois nationalism.
That’s something completely different from the criticisms today. Trotsky, early in his life — I think he changed his views later on — referred to the Bundists as “sea-sick Zionists”. That critique had nothing to do with Palestine or the Palestinian people. It simply has to do with nationalism. The change may have happened in the 1930s, but one marker of it was the trial in Czechoslovakia in 1952, where the Stalinists tried the entire Central Committee of the Czech Communist Party. It was 14 people. Eleven were Jewish. These were old Communists. Many had fought in Spain. They were accused of being Zionists. If you read what “Zionists” meant, it was exactly what the fascists called “Jews” — a shadowy conspiracy, inimical to the health of the Volk, and working to undermine the government which was for the people. The Stalinists couldn’t use the word “Jewish” — this was only seven years after the war — so they used the word “Zionist”. That was one of the origins of a deeply anti-Semitic form of anti-Zionism. It exploded after 1967. The USSR was furious that Israel had defeated its two major client states, and it began to suport the Palestinian movement. The anti-Semitic cartoons and statements coming out of the Soviet Union were pretty appalling. That’s where you got the idea that Zionism is Nazism — generated by the Soviet Union. And unfortunately, that Arab nationalists picked up on it is not surprising.
The Western left started to pick up on that too. I think that was deeply unfortunate. I think anti-semitism is almost a litmus test for whether a movement is progressive or not. There are a lot of anti-capitalist movements that are not progressive. And I think that anti-Semitism is a marker. I think there is a great deal to criticise in Israeli policies, the Israeli occupation, certainly the present Israeli government. But political discussion cannot take place if the choice is between Netanyahu on the one hand, and a certain kind of anti-Semitic anti-Zionism on the other. Anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism is a world view. It is not prejudice against individual Jews. It can go with being perfectly civil, although I’ve been reading about the way some Jewish students are pilloried in terms of “you look Zionist”. Who could “look Zionist”? It means, “you look Jewish”.
I was struck by the UN Arab Human Development report of 2002, which was written by Arab scholars. It talked about the misère of the Arab-speaking world and its massive decline since the late 1970s. The decline was nearly as precipitous as that of sub-Saharan Africa. At the same time other areas of what used to be called “the Third World”, have risen. It seems to me that it is not only the decline of the Arab-speaking world, but the rise of other parts, which makes an anti-Semitic form of anti-Zionism more plausible. The power of the Jews! It is the Jews who are pulling everything down. This is only a little variant on the idea that the problem is all imperialism. Well, imperialism is very important, was important, was distorting. But after all the British were in India much longer than anyone was in Syria. Or in Iraq. But I know more serious analyses of India from the left than I do of the Ba’ath. I find that politically unfortunate, and when it becomes anti-Semitic, I find it a marker of a move towards a reactionary populism. Campuses On many campuses, the hostility has spread to all Jews. It has made many young Jews very confused and they identify more with Israel than they did.
It is creating a reaction. Many of them are naïve politically, and because Israel’s very existence is being called into question, they also frequently are uncritical in terms of what is going on in Israel-Palestine. When Israel under comes such attack – because it doesn’t feel like a political attack but an existential attack – there is very little discussion. There are campaigns such as BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel], which is basically dishonest. [Norman] Finkelstein picked up on this quite a while ago. Some people are confused, and BDS tries to promote the confusion. People think it is against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza period, but it is not. Because if it were, then it would not be a boycott of all Israeli academics, most of whom are very opposed to the settlements and Netanyahu. It is significant I think, that at the height of the Vietnam War, or the Iraq invasion, or other American adventures, there never was a call for a boycott of all American academics, ever.
The West takes the model of South Africa; many Palestinian militants think the model is Algeria; and there is no analogy. I don’t mean a moral analogy, I the mean analogy falls down because of demographic and political facts. There was in South Africa, only a small minority of white South Africans. There are as many Israeli Jews as there are Palestinians. So the Algerian or South African tactics are not going to work. But you have an extremely unfortunate marriage, as it were, between the Israeli right, which is becoming further and further right, and what I regard as the Palestinian right.
For me, the signal event was when [Israeli prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin was assassinated [in 1995, by an Israeli right-winger]. The right-wing campaign against Rabin was appalling and vicious, and Netanyahu was at the head of that. After Rabin was assassinated, it was assumed that Labour would be swept into power on a sympathy vote. Instead a Palestinian group began a campaign of suicide bombs. That elected the first Netanyahu government [in 1996]. The two work hand in glove. Each side thinks that ultimately, in the long run, it is going to prevail. But in the meantime, politically, they are united. It is a united rightwing front.
By Camilla Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)
On Saturday 14th May 2016 I attended the Sheffield TUC’s “Europe IN or OUT? The Big Debate”. Maxine Bowler of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) was the main speaker on the top table for the ‘out’ position. In my contribution from the floor I began by stating my critique of the European Union as a neoliberal capitalist club, which is hostile to migrants and refugees. I reasoned that one can be a fierce critic of the status quo and bureaucracy of the European Union whilst recognising that the alternative actuality of ‘Britain out’, in the face of a deeply chauvinistic wave coalescing through the Brexit campaign, would be a reactionary throwback which will impede the struggle for working class liberation. I then referenced the Marxist tradition (by Marx and Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Gramsci, and others) for a socialist “United States of Europe” – a tradition which has been problematically displaced by Stalinism. Maxine replied: “I am angry that someone has used Marx and Engels to defend the European Union!” So she missed my point. But much worse still, she woefully neglected an important history and compass for the present from supposedly her own tradition. As the debate proceeded, a member of the audience tentatively made a case for ‘Britain out’ on the basis of a need to curb immigration. Maxine responded by making a case for open borders. And herein lies the political incongruity of the Lexit campaign: arguing against a Fortress Europe and for an open Europe, while effectively retreating to (a left-wing) nationalism; arguing against the European Union and for an internationalism, while ineffectively challenging the forces and conditions of existence that are fuelling xenophobia, racism, parochialism, and nationalism. In the fantasy politics minds of its campaigners, Lexit is the subversion of Brexit, yet in reality it is merely an inversion. Moreover, given the tsunami of Brexit, Lexit’s attempt to capsize Brexit continuously fails as wave after wave capsize Lexit.
In the Social Worker article “Say no to Fortress Europe – vote leave on 23 June”, the organisation argues:
“the EU isn’t about bringing people together across borders. It’s about bringing together the ruling classes of some countries to compete against the ruling classes of other countries – partly by putting up borders. The EU makes it harder to travel into Europe from Africa, Asia and South America. To do so it promotes scapegoating myths that can then be turned against European migrants. So can its machinery of border control and repression. Building a racist Fortress Europe is central to the EU project. Bringing down that fortress is essential for any real internationalism or anti-racism. Some activists argue that the bigger enemy is “Fortress Britain”. But the two aren’t in competition. Britain’s rulers use the EU to police their own borders.”
If we leave the European Union, further still, if it disintegrates under a tsunami of chauvinistic nationalisms, then what are the conditions of existence to then fight for an open Europe? If we succumb to a form of left-wing nationalism amidst waves of racist, xenophobic English and British nationalism, then what are the conditions of existence for a future of workers’ solidarity across borders? Maxine and other SWP members at the Sheffield debate defined those who spelt out the highly probable consequences of ‘Britain out’ as promoting a “politics of despair”. Instead, they speculated, Boris would oust Cameron, the Tories would look like a joke, the masses would then take to the streets, and socialism would be victorious.
II. The Marxist tradition for a “United States of Europe”
Let’s start with the following historical context, as summated by Cathy Nugent in her article “What do Socialists say about the United States of Europe?”: Read the rest of this entry »