“On 23 June, the people of Britain voted to declare their independence – which is what we’re looking to do also, folks! – from international government,” Trump told his audience in Jackson, Mississippi.
Jackson is a place where the memory of the Confederacy is still fresh, and as such a curious one in which to be touting a second independence day, of sorts. But such white nationalist fervour seemed to play well with the overwhelmingly white crowd assembled in the largely black city on Wednesday night.
The architects of Brexit like to frame the vote as a righteous backlash against powerful elites. As Farage put it on Wednesday: “You can beat the pollsters. You can beat the commentators … Anything is possible if enough decent people are prepared to stand up against the establishment.”
According to this oft trotted-out framing, Trump’s reviled Washington establishment is a parallel for Farage’s European Commission. But the hyper-focus on anti-elitism obscures the far less righteous xenophobia, racism and anti-immigrant sentiment that were also elements of the leave campaign
Over the course of the last year, millions of Americans voted for Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist candidate who offered a program of radical change. According to public opinion polls, nearly all of them are now going to cast their votes for Hillary Clinton. They will do so even though she remains a widely disliked and untrusted candidate who is often seen as being the candidate of the “Establishment”.
Some polls put the number of former Sanders supporters now backing Clinton as high as 90%. Most expect the numbers to be even higher as the November election draws closer.
Clinton has gone from being the candidate of Goldman Sachs and the one-percent to being the candidate we will vote for.
There are two reasons for this.
The first is that the fear of Donald Trump winning the election has persuaded many of us that any alternative would be preferable. In that sense, many on the American left are echoing the decision by French socialists in 2002 to support the hated Jacques Chirac rather than to allow Jean-Marie Le Pen to win the presidency.
The second is that a full year of the Sanders campaign actually had an impact. This is true even though the candidate fell short of the number of delegates required to win the nomination of his party. Take the Democratic Party’s platform, which revealed how far to the left the party has turned. Sanders himself was the first to point this out. In every speech he gives – including his address on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia – he emphasizes how many of his ideas made it into the final program of the party.
There are counter-arguments to both of these points. But those arguments are gaining little ground among Sanders supporters.
One of those argued that choosing Clinton over Trump is a form of “lesser-evilism.” At some point, one simply has to say “no” and vote for a candidate who is not seen as evil at all, such as the Green Party’s Jill Stein.
Another argument is that all of the Democratic Party’s concessions to Sanders are meaningless. No Democratic politician is obligated to do what the party platform says, including Hillary Clinton. Though Clinton has publicly embraced many of Sanders’ positions in recent weeks, there’s no reason to believe she’ll carry any of it out once elected.
There is little evidence that either of those arguments have had much of an impact on Sanders supporters. They certainly haven’t persuaded me.
Jill Stein’s campaign still languishes on the fringes of American politics, with no chance of reaching the 15% in public opinion polls that would guarantee the Green politician a place in the upcoming presidential debates. (Stein is averaging just 4% in the latest polls, and is likely to receive considerably less than that on election day.)
Sanders supporters in large numbers are embracing the position advocated by the largest left organization in America in the 1960s, the Students for a Democratic Society. SDS supported the Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson over Republican Barry Goldwater. They did so despite all their reservations about Johnson. Johnson ran on the slogan “All the way with LBJ!” SDS answered with “Part of the way with LBJ.”
It was a good slogan that expresses the view of many regarding Hillary Clinton today.
The argument that Clinton doesn’t really believe in the $15 an hour minimum wage, or single-payer health care, or debt-free college tuition (among many Sanders positions she has adopted in recent weeks) misses the point.
The left understands that its job when someone wins the presidency on a left-liberal platform is to mobilize to ensure that they live up to their promises. This is why the civil rights movement came alive in the 1960s. This is why the great March on Washington in 1963 came about to pressure a liberal Democratic administration to live up to its promises. Such protests would have had little impact if the Republican Richard Nixon had won the 1960 election. But the Kennedy-Johnson administration was vulnerable to pressure, and the result was the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Food stamps, the abortive “war on poverty”, various civil rights laws, and more.
If Clinton wins the election on November 8th, all those millions of Sanders supporters who grudgingly voted for her, will need to be mobilized to force her and Congress to enact as much of the Democratic Platform as we can. Sanders has launched a new organization, “Our Revolution”, which is devoted to precisely that.
As for Donald Trump, there is a tendency among some on the left to say that while he’s bad, he’s really no different from Clinton. In some ways, some have said, he’s better. He opposed job-destroying “free trade” deals like TPP and NAFTA, and he’s seen (by some) as being less likely to lead the US into pointless wars in the Middle East.
Such a view of Trump is delusional. Trump is a racist, sexist, and right-wing bully who is America’s Jean-Marie Le Pen. There is more than a whiff of fascism in his campaign. To not see the differences between him and Hillary Clinton is to be blind.
Fortunately, if the polls are right, the vast majority of Sanders supporters understand this. Given a choice between Hillary Clinton, who has been forced against her will to run on the most progressive platform the Democrats ever had, and Donald Trump, most liberals and leftists know what needs to be done.
Eric Lee reports (28/07/2016) from Philadelpia. Republished from Eric’s blog:
A few years after the second world war, a strange book was published in New York City. It was called The Russian Menace to Europe and judging by the title, one would imagine it was one of many books which focussed public attention on the threat posed by the emerging Soviet superpower.
The book’s authors, however, were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
It was a collection of essays, mostly newspaper articles, written by Marx and Engels in the 19th century. The Russia they were concerned about was not the Soviet Union, but the tsarist empire.
And yet there were very strong parallels between the two periods, a point Marx himself made (without knowing the future) when he described the unchanging character of Russian foreign policy.
Marx was especially concerned with the way Russia manipulated Western leaders, especially certain British politicians such as Lord Palmerston. Palmerston’s actions during the Crimean War seemed to benefit Russia so often that Marx was convinced he was the tsar’s agent.
The idea back in the 1950s that Communist Russia and tsarist Russia had so much in common was quite daring. Today, the idea that Putin’s Russia continues historic patterns stretching back centuries seems less controversial.
Putin’s foreign policy is simply a 21st century version of traditional Russian imperialism, constantly poking and probing its neighbors for weakness.
In 2008, he brazenly launched a war on Georgia, an independent country to Russia’s south. He continues to occupy two Georgian provinces with Russian troops. A few years later, his soldiers seized control of Crimea from Ukraine. And then they triggered a civil war in eastern Ukraine, causing thousands of deaths.
Putin’s 21st century Russian imperialism has its foreign policy too and just like the tsars and the Communists, it seeks to influence Western politicians and public opinion.
In the American elections, the Russians are playing both sides with a considerable measure of success. The relationship between Putin and Trump is an increasingly transparent one. Trump has long expressed his admiration for Putin. And yesterday, he stunned the political world in America by publicly calling on the Russians to release some 30,000 deleted emails from Hillary Clinton’s server which they may have hacked.
But it is not only the far-right Republicans that Putin seeks to influence and control. For several years now, Putin’s satellite TV news channel Russia Today has tried to influence public opinion in the West by pretending to offer an alternative view of the world. It is has had a certain limited success.
I spent yesterday not at the Democratic National Convention but at alternative events hosted by both democratic socialist groups and the far Left here in Philadelphia. Green Party presidential candidate Dr Jill Stein spoke at one of them. In a packed, airless and extremely hot hall, I saw a number of participants wearing “Hillary for Prison” t-shirts. It seemed to strike no one as odd that Donald Trump’s slogan had a place at a left-wing meeting.
I imagine that most of the people in the room would broadly accept the world-view espoused by Russia Today — that the United States is the cause of global instability, that Russia threatens no one, and so on. These views are certainly reflected in the platform of the Green Party.
So we find in America a century and a half after Marx and Engels wrote their essays that on both political fringes, right and left, the influence of the Russian state is clearly felt. Obviously it is Donald Trump, and not Jill Stein, who needs to worry us. But both are part of the same broad current who distrust American foreign policy, demonize Hillary Clinton, and have no problem with the autocrat in the Kremlin.
Those groups and individuals, whether they support the Tea Party or are self-styled Communists, are the members of Putin’s Party.
The following letter appears in today’s (July 20) edition of the Morning Star. We republish it here because (a) letters do not appear on the MS website; (b) it’s from an active and well-respected Unite member, and (c) it states some simple truths very bluntly. I might also add that as the MS is under the political direction of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), and campaigned for a supposedly “left” exit vote in the referendum, it is to the paper’s credit that they’ve published such a stinging rebuke:
Brexit vote has encouraged racists AS A delegate to Unite’s policy conference in Brighton, I was disappointed to find in the Communist Party’s conference bulletin no mention of the spike in racist attacks on migrant workers.
Many trade unionists actively campaigned against leaving the European Union because we knew the racists and right would use the referendum to whip up hostility to migrant workers. Exit from the EU has shifted politics to the right, not the left.
In my local shop a Romanian worker who has been in the country for many years is fearful for her children walking home from school and now sleeps with a bucket of water in her hall in case there is an arson attack in the night.
Many of the rights and protections gained by European trade unions through campaigning in the EU will be lost as directives relating to the workplace fall away.
This right wing government will move increasingly to a low-wage, low-corporation tax economy.
It is disappointing that the CPB is adopting a Little Englander approach and turning away from European solidarity. I struggled at times during the referendum campaign to separate the political positions of the CPB and Ukip
NICK LONG Chair, Lewisham Town Hall Branch LE/1183
” totally false to draw the utterly pessimistic conclusions… that this result could lead to a ‘carnival of reaction’”
By Johnny Lewis
In a previous post I dealt with the argument from ‘Lexit’ (ie left pro-Brexit) campaigners that the chaos an exit from the EU would create for the ruling class would, inevitably, benefit the working class. For ‘Lexit’ people this functions as a Deus ex machina, overcoming the unsolvable problem of their failure to grow as a movement and acts as a substitute for activity within the working class. We now have Brexit and with it chaos in spades, and we will soon see just what a wonderful new dawn it will usher in for socialism and the working class. In the meantime the Brexit triumph has to be painted as a great working class victory: the Socialist Party’s Peter Taaffe has duly obliged in an article published in their paper and on their website. To do this he has to begin with two big – very big – assertions.
The vote “…represents at bottom a predominantly working-class revolt against austerity” and it is “… totally false to draw the utterly pessimistic conclusions… that this result could lead to a ‘carnival of reaction’ in Britain and encourage right-wing forces in Europe and elsewhere”. From these two assertions the rest of Taaffe’s views follow; in fact both of these statements verge on the delusional.
A recent report form the Europe Council on Foreign Relations: The World According To Europe’s Insurgent Parties: Putin, Migration And People Power points to the rise of insurgent parties across Europe some are of the left but mainly of the populist right; they are “sceptical about the EU, resent the United States, and are sympathetic to Russia. Most prefer borders closed, migration low, and trade protected. They all want to return power to the people through direct democracy”.
While some parties on the left such as Podemos want to reform the EU, it is the parties of the populist right who have been emboldened by Brexit. It was Le Pen from Front National, the Northern League from Italy the Austrian FPO and the Dutch PVV who hailed it as a victory for their own anti-immigration and anti-EU stances. This relationship between Brexit and the European populist right has simply escaped Taffe’s notice – or perhaps he regards it as merely incidental in the ever-onward march of socialists towards inevitable victory.
In Britain Ukip has been gaining traction for a number of years. In the 2015 election they gained 3.5m plus votes (12.6% of the electorate) displacing the Lib-Dems as Britain’s third party. Over the last year they have made small but noticeable encroachments into unions’ workplace positions. It is inconceivable that Brexit has not increased their stock and if Johnson et al fail to deliver on controlling the boarders, then for sure Ukip will be there to pick up disillusioned Brexit voters.
It is not only the neck of the new Tory leadership Ukip will be breathing down: it is also the Labour Party’s. After the 2015 election Ukip declared the gaol of replacing Labour in the North. Having come second in some 120 seats they are now well on the way to building up a constituency infrastructure as the prerequisite to a stable and ongoing challenge to Labour. It is self-evident that the referendum has further consolidated and extended Ukip’s working class base.
Just as the with reactionary consequences in Europe, the consequence of the Brexit victory boosting Ukip and the right in general is not on Taaffe’s radar – indeed how could it be when he considers Brexit a great triumph for socialism.
One thing Taaffe is right about is Brexit’s working class base: there were far greater numbers of workers voting to leave than stay. While there was just two percentage points in it among C1’s there was nearly 50% more voting to leave among C’s and DE’s (according to the Ashcroft poll). The same poll also showed a stark division in social attitudes between Leave and Remain, with 39% of leavers, more than twice the number of remain voters, viewing themselves `either as “English not British” or “more English than British”. By large majorities’ Levers, as opposite to Remainers, did not see multiculturalism, feminism, the Green movement, globalisation or immigration as forces for good. This divide chimes in with one of the findings of Labour’s Future, that social conservatives were deserting Labour to such an extent that it is “now largely a party of progressive, social liberals who value universalist principles such as equality, sustainability and social justice. It is losing connection with large parts of the voter population who are either pragmatists in their voting habits or social conservatives who value family, work, fairness and their country.”
So Brexit voters clearly fall into the category of those deserting Labour.
One would think as a general rule socialist would err on the side of social liberals rather than the socially conservative – but such a presumption cuts no ice with Taaffe who is unequivocal; Remain workers were “… cynically exploited by the Tory ‘remainers’ and their supporters”. The Brexiteers are a different matter: `”Traditional Labour areas and regions [who] voted heavily against the government…Even where remain won a majority there was an unmistakable working-class determination to show ‘them’ – the Tories and the remain elite – that ‘enough is enough'”.
Such a black-and-white division is in fact essential to the ‘analysis’ put forward by Taaffe and the Socialist Party (SP) as it enables them to conjure up Brexit workers, and their struggle against the “elite”, as a tablou, the backdrop illustrating the correctness of the SP stance on the EU.
Taaffe is able to assert this division exists because while Remain are seen as dupes, Brexiteers are somehow ideologically free agents, pushing a spontaneously arrived-at class positon. While for sure Lexit had no say in the leave campaign, the ideas and views that Brexit-voting workers listened to and absorbed were those of the Brexit campaign. The key – the main and often the only – message workers picked up from Brexit was stopping immigration which merged with their own independently arrived-at view.
The élan Brexit achieved was due entirely to Johnson and Gove saying to workers what they wanted to hear: leave the EU and we will stop immigration. 80% of leave voters said immigration was bad, 35% of Labour Leave voters cited the need for border controls (as opposed to 27% of Tories) as the main reason for voting Leave.
As I believe is universally acknowledged, without the ‘carrot’ of curtailing immigration we would still be in the EU. This is not to say austerity did not play its role in the Brexit vote, but for many (probably most) pro-Brexit workers, it was immigrants who were the scapegoat for the destitution they’re experiencing under capitalism. Yet austerity also played an important role for Remain workers in similar social circumstances, the difference being they did not blame ‘foreigners’
Absenting himself from tiresome facts, Taaffe has conjured up an ideologically- free imaginary movement arising from the Leave campaign – implicitly and/or ‘unconsciously’ socialist (or at least, ‘progressive’) in character. But the harsh reality is Leave voters were tied hand and foot to the racist-right Brexit campaign, and how could it be anything else? Taffe tells us in a half-hearted concession to this point “…it is true that the racist …UKIP was for leave, as was the Tory capitalist brutalist duo of Johnson and Gove, with an emphasis on scapegoating immigrants. Some workers were no doubt seduced by the anti-immigrant message of these reactionary forces”: if this means anything it is an attempt to say the SP (and perhaps the rest of the Lexit campaign) were in competition with the two main right wing Leave campaigns, putting the anti-EU case to the workers. Outside of the SP self-deusionary propaganda circles the reality was that Johnson and Gove were the Leave campaign with Farage providing their more forthright, openly racist, flank.
While the SP and Lexit supporters continue to deny the character of the Leave campaign and refuse to countenance its reactionary consequences in the real world, the rest of us are confronted with just that. While the bill in jobs and terms and conditions has still to be presented, we have already seen that Brexit has lowered the racist bar, back to where we were in the late ‘60’s, with a racist surge of verbal abuse and in some cases physical attacks taking place across the county. Brexit has not just brought overt racism back onto the streets: it has placed immigration at the centre of the political stage. It is this rather than class upon which the political axis now turns: if an election was held today even a Labour party united behind Corbyn would struggle as the question of border controls is now the centre of the political discourse.
Anyone who spoke to workers during the campaign will know how immigration was the alpha and omega of any discussion: the lack of understanding and the repeating of misinformation existed on a breath-taking scale. Whatever else socialist and in particular trade unionists do we need to engage with Brexit workers and our starting point is not to call them racist bastards’ or suggestthat we should all hold hands, celebrate our diversity and be nice to one another. Rather it is to explain why the immigrant is the wrong target. Nonsense like Taaffe’s delusional (indeed, self-delusional) article will not help us do that.
On 24 June, as the Brexit referendum result hit the school where I work, both students and teachers were aghast. The idea that this was a “working-class revolt” inflicting “a massive reverse” on the rich and powerful had no takers in a school whose catchment area is among the 5% poorest in the country.
Some students told me “I have dual nationality, Slovak and British [or whatever it might be], so I’ll be all right. But…” And they’d sigh. Yet some on the left are jubilant.
The Socialist Party claims “the fundamental character of the exit vote… was a working class revolt” causing “the anger and despair of Britain’s elite” and probably “the collapse of the Tory party”.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) is less fantastical, acknowledging that “the Left Leave campaign we were part of had only a marginal effect”. But somehow, it claimed, “the rich and the powerful… have suffered a massive reverse” – through the bit of the “Leave” campaign which had a not-at-all-marginal effect, the right-wing bit. (One survey before the referendum found that active “Leave” campaigners were broadly 60% Tory, 40% Ukip. Odd leaders for a “working-class revolt” against the “rich and powerful”).
The SP, the SWP, and the anaemic Lexit/ Left Leave campaign have all responded by demanding an immediate general election and predicting a left Labour Corbyn victory in that election.
In fact, this moment of high dismay for the left has quickly been seized on by the Labour right to launch the motion of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn they hadn’t dared to push until now. They could see things moving their way when, even before referendum day, left-wingers like Paul Mason, cowed by the Brexit surge, had started arguing for Labour to propose blocks on immigration from Europe.
Jeremy Corbyn’s and John McDonnell’s statements since the result have been sadly weak, and most of the left has been pushed back into a defensive stance against the attempted Labour-right coup.
The very rapid online support for Corbyn suggests we can beat the coup. But the direction of movement, for now, is not from Corbyn surge to a super-surge pushing the Tories out, but in the other direction.
“Cameron out” is no left-wing slogan when it is actually happening, and he is due to be replaced by a more right-wing Tory! The Tories will now proceed with more right-wing business. Possibly some pro-EU Tories will choose to fade out of politics, but they won’t launch a party split now, which would be on a hiding to nothing.
There will be Tory tensions over the terms of Brexit, but those are for the years to come, not the next few weeks. And they will be over adjustments and calibrations, easier to manage than the sharp in/out conflict over the EU which has divided the Tory party for 20 years.
There is little prospect of a general election. Why ever would the new right-wing Tory leadership respond to the democratic mandate they now claim, not by pressing ahead, but by nervously provoking a vote of no confidence?
Maybe Gove and Johnson will overreach themselves, and the left can rally and quickly turn things round. But not if the left tells itself that things are already going the right way!
The core argument of the Brexit left is that any disruption that causes dismay among the majority of the ruling class must automatically be good for the working class.
It was most exuberantly expressed in an article by former SWP leader John Rees on his Counterfire website on 15 June. The SWP, Lexit, and SP commentaries are only toned-down versions of Rees’s argument.
The tactical rule, so Rees argued, must be: “if we want to start dismantling the actually existing centres of power and so weaken the real and currently operative engines of exploitation and oppression that means opposing the main enemy: the ruling class currently embedded in the EU”.
Gove, Johnson, and Farage are ugly? “Sometimes your ugliest enemy isn’t your most powerful enemy”. The rule must be to set ourselves against the “most powerful enemy”. “Only someone entirely wedded to the linear school of historical analysis could fail to see an opportunity for the left in this situation. Minds uncomfortable with contradiction always have difficulty with social crises, of course”.
But if a more-reactionary minority of the ruling class can construct populist support to prevail over the majority, it does not thereby cease to be more reactionary. Revolutionary political crises inevitably come with some chaos and disorder, but the converse does not follow: that chaos and disorder bring revolution. Read Naomi Klein’s book on The Shock Doctrine, which chronicles many cases in recent decades where episodes of social chaos have been used by the right to push through devastating policies which they could not have implemented in calmer times. Rees’s argument, and the SWP’s and the SP’s, that “crisis” of any sort must be good, reflects their demoralisation. Having lost, or half-lost, their belief in the possibility of a real social-revolutionary crisis, they cast around for “crises” of any sort as substitutes.
The referendum result has brought disarray in the ruling class, but, as Bank of England governor Mark Carney says, they “are well prepared for this”. The 1992 Swiss referendum vote not to join the European Economic Area, the 1994 Norwegian referendum vote not to join the EU, and the 2005 French vote to reject the draft EU constitution (by a bigger majority than the narrow Swiss and Norwegian votes) all caused disarray: but no ruling-class collapse, no left-wing surge. The disarray in the working class caused by a political event in which Gove, Johnson, and Farage have managed to draw a sizeable chunk of the class behind them is not so easily managed.
Donald Trump has drawn in plebeian support to beat the Republican establishment. He might even win the presidential election. That will be a setback, not a great opportunity, for the working class and the left.
The clerical hierarchy in Iran channelled mass plebeian support in 1979 to defeat the pro-US majority of the Iranian ruling class. The result was terror against the working class, not socialist advance. There are dozens of other examples in history of the folly of Rees’s scheme.
Even the examples he himself cites about advances for the right being opportunities to “to start dismantling the actually existing centres of power” show nothing of the sort.
“No-one assumes that the English Defence League is as powerful an enemy as the Tory government, though both must be opposed. The same applies here: the mainstream ruling class block is the main enemy”. But no-one on the left argues that we should ally with the EDL to cause chaos for the Tories, or that, if only we could think as non-linearly as John Rees, an EDL triumph would really be a working-class victory!
“We need to seize the opportunity a crisis gives us (as we did when we formed the Stop the War Coalition the week after 9/11, when it would have been so easy to just say ‘the right will benefit’)”. But the right did benefit! The Islamist right gained prestige by showing its power, and the US right gained by getting its mandate to make war in Afghanistan and Iraq. That the left was able to organise some big (though unsuccessful) demonstrations against that right-wing surge doesn’t change the overall picture.
And the analogue to forming the Stop the War Coalition then – leaving aside the considerable arguments about how that campaign was run – would be to form a “Stop the Anti-Migrant-Drive Coalition” now, not to celebrate Brexit.
The Socialist Party and SWP statements discuss a matter which does not bother Rees in his dialectical constructions: the character of the working-class element in the vote for Brexit.
They insist at length that it was not all racist, and not all pro-Ukip. That is surely true. Little of the feeling against East European migrant workers is based on racial stereotypes. Many people of relatively recent immigrant background have been persuaded that the gates should be closed against new migrants: they are often very aware of the awkwardness of the argument, but have been convinced that migration is now just “too much”. To think of the numbers of jobs, or houses, or hospital beds, as fixed quantities, and respond by saying that the limited numbers must be kept for those already in Britain, is narrow-minded and false, but not racist.
Some people with no hostility to migrants were drawn in by the demagogic argument that Brexit would allow “us” to make “our own laws” or to “take control”. (The Brexiters were tactfully silent about which laws originating from the EU they objected to. In fact they are such laws as those implementing EU protections on working hours and agency workers, and even those were not “imposed”, but voted through by the Blair-Brown Labour government – rather reluctantly, but voted through – after Tory obstruction).
And some people were swayed by the same sort of argument as the left Brexiters: that, whatever about migrants, whatever about laws, any protest against the status quo, the “elite”, must be good. Very few of those will have been swayed by the left; but in any case, this argument, the most “left-wing” of the Brexit arguments, not really left-wing at all. Going for an incoherent kick against “the elite” is a substitute for and a diversion from real class-struggle mobilisation, not an example of it. The feeling may not be racist or pro-Ukip, but it is such that can be, and has been, channelled by racist, by Ukip, and by Tories.
(Rees claims that Ukip support fell during the referendum campaign. The poll figures bounced up and down a lot, but Ukip’s percentage rose from an average of 14% in polls between mid-March and mid-April to an average of 16% between late April and early June. The Tories’ lead over Labour rose from tiny between mid-March and late April – an average of 1.7% – to an average of 4% between late April and early June. No “collapse of the Conservative Party” there!)
The whole train of thought here, despite or maybe because of the manifest anxious desire of the SP and SWP to show themselves in tune with what they reckon to be working-class feeling, is patronising and manipulative, an example of what Marxists call “middle-class workerism”.
That many older workers in depressed areas of low migration voted “Leave” does not mean that the whole working class, or even a majority, voted “Leave”. That many people in the worst-off sections of the working class voted “Leave” does not make “Leave” a more authentically working-class response than the “Remain” stance of younger, more educated (and often more educated precisely because younger), big-city, working-class people.
Socialists will best serve our class brothers and sisters who voted “Leave” by arguing with them – not caricaturing them, not dismissing them, but treating them as intelligent women and men who have gone off course, as people do, but can and should be convinced by reason. When they are convinced, class-conscious and socialistic elements in their thinking, now suppressed and overwhelmed by the Brexit demagogy, will come to the fore.
The SP and the SWP, by contrast, seem to have given up on convincing workers. They look, awe-struck, at the Brexit surge with its “anti-elite” overtones, and scrabble to suggest ways in which that surge, as it is, can be managed, manipulated, redirected, so as to channel into their desired outcome of a general election and a Corbyn victory. Their approach is similar to a common caricature of the Trotskyist transitional-demands approach (one promoted both by opponents of the approach and some who consider themselves supporters of it): that transitional demands are those which appear “realistic”, not-specially-socialist, not-specially-radical, but lend themselves to mobilisations which can, in a way unknown to the workers involved, slide into socialist revolution. In the SP’s and the SWP’s constructions, Brexit has become a sort of fake “transitional demand” by which the dialectically-attuned can manoeuvre the working class into desired channels.
As Frederick Engels explained: “Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organization, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul. [And] in order that the masses may understand what is to be done, long, persistent work is required…”
What is to be done now is to conserve and extend workers’ unity, between workers in Britain of all origins and between British and European workers; to defend migrant rights and the worker rights which have entered British law under pressure from the EU; to fight to redirect the social anger expressed in Brexit votes towards social solidarity, taxing the rich, and social ownership of the banks and industry; and to stand up for socialism. None of that can be done if the left falls for the fantasy that the Brexit vote is already taking things our way.
Last year, Britain experienced a net immigration rate of 333,000 – though the real figure may be far higher than our unreliable statistics suggest. Many voters perceive a squeeze on public services and fear a loss of control over security. Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, has claimed that freedom of movement rules have prevented him from denying entry to people with a criminal record, or even those who have suspected links to terrorism.
Australia is not necessarily perceived as being anti-immigration so much as a country that demands and gets precisely what it wants.
A points system would not necessarily achieve the results that every Eurosceptic is looking for. The Prime Minister has countered that Australia actually “has more migration per head than we do here in the UK”. But Australia is not necessarily perceived as being anti-immigration so much as a country that demands and gets precisely what it wants. As a member of the EU, Britain essentially has to take as many people as wish to come. Outside the EU, the argument goes, it would only have to take the numbers that employers actually need.
Above: the authentic face of ‘Leave’
The attractiveness of this argument will surely cause Remain a little panic. The referendum is increasingly being cast not just as a vote on the EU but on David Cameron’s record in office – and his many promises on reducing migration remain embarrassingly unfulfilled. That criticism is only intensifying from members of his own party gives the impression that this referendum is in fact a choice between two varieties of conservatism. Thanks to Labour’s near silence on Europe, there is a case for saying that this is what it has become.
If Leave can use issues such as immigration to reconstruct the Thatcherite coalition of the Eighties – an alliance between the patriotic Right and the usually Left-wing working class – they could reshape politics for years to come. What it will hopefully bring in the next few weeks is a new energy to the discussion. After so much negativity and hysteria from Remain, Leave has offered a positive agenda – an agenda that could rally their troops and give Britain the debate it deserves.
Above: the criminally irresponsible ‘Lexit’ campaign
No-one wants to use a horrible death to make political capital – it’s not done and it’s not decent.
But imagine this: after weeks of vicious racist propaganda in sections of the mainstream press and from the far-right of the Tory party, there is then a racist attack, even though it may be by a mentally ill “lone wolf”: surely, the left would not hesitate to ascribe it to the racists in the press and the Tory party?
We might, privately, acknowledge that there isn’t, necessarily, a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the racist propaganda and this particular attack: but we’d be clear that words have effects and those responsible for stoking up racism deserve to be held accountable for the political atmosphere they’ve created, and, therefore, for any physical violence that follows.
A below the line commenter at Shiraz Socialist has made the following apposite observation regarding my previous post on this subject:
“A banal example: I got off the train at San Pietro during the period when the Pope prior to Ratzinger was dying. A women was writhing on the floor outside the station wailing about the Virgin Mary, her stigmata and how she was related as mother, to the coming ‘holy father’. The police arrived, people tapped their heads – simply a ‘nutcase’ (sic), mentally disturbed. True, but why was she ranting about the Pope and stigmata? Why not rant about Mickey Mouse or the Grand Patriarch? She was clearly influenced by the ideological images and various cultural forms in which she lived. This is Jim’s point I think and taken in this way, it is not without merit. If however, he is saying that the Brexit campaign had a direct causal effect on the killers actions and his illness, then the proposition cannot be sustained.”
I can accept that reasonable point, but it doesn’t change my question: why is much of the left so reluctant to link the murder of Jo Cox in any way to the racist campaign that has been waged by all sections of the Brexit campaign over the last couple of months? Partly, it’s an admirable sense of decency: a reluctance to politicise or seek to make political capital out of a tragic death – and that reaction is admirable.
But also (see, for instance, the craven editorial in Saturday’s Morning Star or this wretched, evasive piece in Socialist Worker) something more simple and more shameful is at work here: some idiot-leftists have been giving “left” cover to the racist Brexit campaign, and now they seek to evade their responsibility. They’d not be so reticent about ascribing blame for a racially-motivated murder under any other circumstances. I suspect that the more thoughtful and honest of them are now recoiling in horror at their role.
The truth is that, unlike the contemptible Labour xenophobe Gisela Stuart, the rather pathetic ‘Brexit’ campaign is so marginal and irrelevant to the main debate going on over the EU that their intervention will have little or no influence upon the final result. Even so, the “left” Brexiters will be branded with infamy by the serious left for their criminally irresponsible role during the referendum campaign.
The man accused of murdering Jo Cox gave his name in court as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. As he (allegedly) shot and stabbed the MP to death he cried “Britain First” or “Put Britain First”.
It is now established that he had links with the far-right. It seems very likely that he is mentally ill. We do not know to what extent the anti-Europe campaign fuelled his murderous hatred, but those of who believe that political rhetoric inevitably has practical consequences are obliged to point out that the poisonous, racist campaign for Brexit has created precisely the political context for murderous violence of this kind. Just a few hours before the murder, Farage unveiled a poster showing Syrian refugees fleeing to Slovenia as though this was a threat to the UK: a clear incitement to racial hatred:
Remain campaigners have, on the whole, been reluctant to publicly link the murder with the racism of the Brexit campaign, but some have now had the guts to start doing so. I recommend Polly Toynbee here, Alex Massie here and Jonathan Freedland here.
Alan Woods at Socialist Appeal makes some good points here, but eventually bottles it by trying to argue that the official Brexit and Remain campaigns are equally culpable – something that is demonstrably untue.
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”!