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.
Above: Norbert Hofer came within a few thousand votes of winning
Wake up you idiots!
Norbert Hofer of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) has come terrifying close to winning the Austrian presidential election. The FRO is still on track to finish first in the next Austrian parliamentary election, due within the next two years.
The FPO has Nazi origins and like the French Front National and right wing populist parties that are coming to the fore throughout Europe, it is viciously anti-immigrant, with a particular hostility towards Muslims. In Hungary, Poland, Finland and Switzerland these parties are already participating in national governments. They are all, of course, anti-EU. Marine La Pen’s Front National could well win next year’s French presidential elections.
How long would it be before these new and resurgent right wing movements tear the EU apart?
Which poses a question for you people on the British left who advocate what you call “Lexit” or “Exit Left” – the Communist Party/Morning Star, the SWP and its spin-off Counterfire, plus the Socialist Party tagging along, together with the RMT union:
Do you really want the break-up of the EU at the hands of these forces? Do you really think anything progressive could possibly come of such an outcome?
Presumably, as self-proclaimed internationalists, you do not merely favour the UK pulling out: you must, logically, favour the break-up of the EU in its entirety.
Have you given any serious thought to what this would mean?
The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. ‘Foreign’ workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face increased hostility and racism.
Any possibility of a humane and fair resolution of the migrant crisis would be completely ruled out, as each European country competed with each other to increase border controls and deport migrants even more ruthlessly than they mare doing now.
There would be a big reduction in the productive capacities of the separate states, cut of from broader economic arenas.
Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in capitalist world-market competition, and would thus be pushed towards crude cost-cutting. In the same way that small capitalist businesses, more fragile in competition, use cruder cost-cutting than bigger employers. The limited, but real, workers’ right brought in by the EU would be swept aside.
There would be more slumps and depression, in the same way that the raising of economic barriers between states in the 1930s exacerbated the slump then.
Inevitably, economic tensions between the different nations competing elbow-to-elbow in Europe’s narrow cockpit would lead to increased tensions and, eventually, war – as happened in Europe for centuries and twice in the last century.
Austria’s close-run presidential vote reveals people are disappointed with the mainstream parties and don’t feel represented any longer, while the refugee crisis, the euro crisis, Islamist terror attacks and dissatisfaction with the EU have also caused a shift to the right in Austria and throughout Europe. But the answer is to put forward internationalist, pro-working class, anti-austerity policies across Europe, not to attempt to jump on the nationalist, racist anti-EU bandwagon of the far-right.
In the weeks that followed Hitler’s seizure of power in February 1933 the German Communist Party (KPD) and the Communist International clung rigidly to their view that the Nazi triumph would be brief and that it would be a case of “after Hitler – our turn”: is that what you #Lexit people really expect to happen after the far-right succeeds in breaking up the EU? If so, you are not just politically illiterate: you are criminally irresponsible.
By a London teacher (this article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)
Vote Ukip, get Corbyn!
I have been on the far left for over thirty years, and I’ve seen and heard some pretty strange things.
I have watched women members of a revolutionary socialist group join the back of a segregated Muslim march against Israel. I’ve argued with left-wing British trade unionists who backed the jailing of independent trade unionists in the old USSR. I’ve seen socialists carry “We are Hizbollah” placards, and listened to leftists who refused to condemn 9/11.
These are sincere people, genuinely believing they are doing the right thing. Often they have given many years of their lives fighting for what they hope will be a better world. And yet they have lost the plot. Their immediate actions and views have become seriously detached from the fight for human liberation.
The current left belief that Brexit is a blow against EU racism and will lead to a left shift in British politics is right up there in the Premier League of unreason.
At the National Union of Teachers union conference over the Easter holiday we debated the EU referendum, eventually rejecting Leave the EU by a big majority.
The Communist Party’s Unity bulletin had declared that the EU vote was (despite the words on the ballot paper) about the NHS.
The SWP believe that a vote to leave will be a blow against racism, despite the fact that a tabloid-driven, UKIP-benefiting, wave of racist hysteria will grip the country if Britain votes to leave. The new leader of the Tory Party will preside over a capitalist UK with even more unpleasant immigration restrictions.
Unfortunately the NUT Executive’s amendment which was passed did not advocate staying in the EU and advocated no position on this “divisive issue”. Some speeches urged rejection of the Brexit position because this was a political matter and the union should defend workers, not meddle with politics.
Workers Liberty’s problem with a union adopting a Brexit position is not that it is political, but that it is stupid.
Brexit is an immediate, pressing threat for many workers in the UK. If Britain votes to get out of the EU the first thing which will happen is that the regulations governing the right of EU workers to work here will be seriously worsened.
In my school the cleaners are mainly Portuguese. Some teaching assistants are Spanish. The man in the photocopy room is Polish. The men in the Premises Dept are Eastern European. There are teachers from Ireland, Spain, Eastern Europe and other EU countries. Quite a few students and their families are from Europe. If the NUT had adopted a Brexit policy what would I say to them? The union has concluded that, in order to strike blow against the racism of the EU, we will help an even worse right wing Tory government into office who will then insist you Sod Off Home? What sense could any normal, rational person make of that?
If you are a racist that message might seem reasonable. If you are a white SWPer with a British passport, Brexit might not appear so much of a problem. For everyone else on the left or in the unions it is a serious threat to the working lives of our friends and co-workers.
Nevertheless the SWP and Socialist Party are dimly aware that Leave = more racism. No doubt someone has told them so.
So they have solved their presentational problem by adding an extra delusional twist to their policy. Although Brexit may seem to hand the government on a plate to the Tory right led by Johnson and Gove, in fact it will give us a left Labour government, led by Corbyn. Hey presto! Like magic, like a rabbit from a hat!
In fact, although Brexit would presumably mean Cameron would lose the leadership of his Party, it is unlikely that the government would fall (it would require a no confidence vote). Even if Brexit did lead to an election, given a Leave vote would give a massive boost to the right in British politics the left would hardly be in a position to take advantage. The right would make gains in an election that came after a vote to Leave.
So why do people like the SWP and SP add an extra layer of delusion – vote to Leave and get a Corbyn government! – to shore up their Left Leave position? Because to do otherwise would mean examining their basic framework which says any damage to capitalism and the Tories is good for us. Having a close look at that framework would be difficult and dangerous (because it would lead to an unravelling of a lot of other positions they hold).
They find it easier to plod on, no matter what damage is done to rational left politics
As Cameron embarks on his campaign to sell his “reformed” relationship with the EU, the xenophobes have begun their anti-EU campign in earnest. Today’s Sun gives us a taste of what to expect: denunciations of migrants, demands for stricter border controls and thinly-disguised racism.
It’s time for the left to get real: the anti-EU movement is of necessity nationalist, xenophobic and border-line racist. No matter how much idiots like the Morning Star, the SWP and the Socialist Party try to dress up their anti-EU rhetoric with the word “socialism” and dire warnings about the evils of international capitalism and the “bosses’ Europe” they cannot escape the reactionary logic of their anti-EU stance.
Yet for decades now most of the British left — and the left in a few other European countries, such as Denmark — has agitated “against the EU”. The agitation has suggested, though rarely said openly, we should welcome and promote every pulling-apart of the EU, up to and including the full re-erection of barriers between nation-states.
Yet the possibility of a serious unravelling of the patchwork, bureaucratic semi-unification of Europe, slowly developed over the last sixty years, is more real today than ever before. The decisive push for unravelling comes from from the nationalist and populist right.
And that calls the bluff of a whole swathe of the British left.
For decades, most of the British left has been “anti-EU” as a matter of faith. In Britain’s 1975 referendum on withdrawing from the EU, almost the whole left, outside AWL’s forerunner Workers’ Fight, campaigned for withdrawal. Since then the left has hesitated explicitly to demand withdrawal. It has limited itself to “no to bosses’ Europe” agitation, implying but not spelling out a demand for the EU to be broken up.
The agitation has allowed the left to eat its cake and have it. The left can chime in with populist-nationalist “anti-Europe” feeling, which is stronger in Britain than in any other EU country. It can also cover itself by suggesting that it is not really anti-European, but only dislikes the “bosses’” character of the EU.
As if a confederation of capitalist states could be anything other than capitalist! As if the cross-Europe policy of a collection of neo-liberal governments could be anything other than neo-liberal!
As if the material force behind neo-liberal cuts has been the relatively flimsy Brussels bureaucracy, rather than the mighty bureaucratic-military-industrial complexes of member states. As if the answer is to oppose confederation and cross-Europeanism as such, rather than the capitalist, neo-liberal, bureaucratic character of both member states and the EU.
As if the EU is somehow more sharply capitalist, anti-worker, and neo-liberal than the member states. In Britain more than any other country we have seen successive national governments, both Tory and New Labour, repeatedly objecting to EU policy as too soft, too “social”, too likely to entrench too many workers’ rights.
As if the answer is to pit nations against Europe, rather than workers against bosses and bankers. The anti-EU left loves to gloatingly remind us of the EU leaders’ appalling treatment of Greece and Tsipras’s capitulation – despite the fact that while in Greece and Southern Europe the EU is indeed a force for neoliberal austerity, in the UK no-one can point to a single attack on the working class that has originated with the EU against the will of a British government: indeed the EU has forced reluctant UK governments to enact limited but real pro-worker legislation (despite the Morning Star‘s dishonest claims to the contrary, the EU has been responsible for real pro-working class reforms such as the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations, the Agency Workers Regulations and the Working Time Regulations – none of which are at any immediate risk as a result of Cameron’s “renegotiation”).
When Socialist Worker, in a Q&A piece, posed itself the question, “wouldn’t things be better for workers if Britain pulled out of the EU?”, it answered itself with a mumbling “yes, but” rather than a ringing “yes”.
“Socialist Worker is against Britain being part of a bosses’ Europe”. Oh? And against Britain being part of a capitalist world, too?
Britain would be better off in outer space? Or walled off from the world North-Korea-style? “But withdrawing from the EU wouldn’t guarantee workers’ rights — the Tories remain committed to attacking us”. Indeed. And just as much so as the EU leaders, no?
A few years ago the Socialist Party threw itself into a electoral coalition called No2EU. Every week in its “Where We Stand” it declaims: “No to the bosses’ neo-liberal European Union!”, though that theme rarely appears in its big headlines.
Even the demand for withdrawal is a soft-soap, “tactical” gambit. In principle Britain could quit the EU without disrupting much. It could be like Norway, Iceland, Switzerland: pledged to obey all the EU’s “Single Market” rules (i.e. all the neo-liberal stuff) though opting out of a say in deciding the rules; exempt from contributing to the EU budget but also opting out from receiving EU structural and regional funds.
That is not what the no-to-EU-ers want. They want Britain completely out. They want all the other member-states out too. A speech by RMT president Alex Gordon featured on the No2EU website spells it out: “Imperialist, supranational bodies such as the EU seek to roll back democratic advances achieved in previous centuries… Progressive forces must respond to this threat by defending and restoring national democracy. Ultimately, national independence is required for democracy to flourish…”
But does the left really want the EU broken up? What would happen?
The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face disapproval at best.
There would be a big reduction in the productive capacities of the separate states, cut off from broader economic arenas.
Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in capitalist world-market competition, and thus would be pushed towards crude cost-cutting, in the same way that small capitalist businesses, more fragile in competition, use cruder cost-cutting than the bigger employers.
There would be more slumps and depression, in the same way that the raising of economic barriers between states in the 1930s lengthened and deepened the slump then.
Nationalist and far-right forces, already the leaders of anti-EU political discourse everywhere, would be “vindicated” and boosted. Democracy would shrink, not expand. The economically-weaker states in Europe, cut off from the EU aid which has helped them narrow the gap a bit, would suffer worst, and probably some would fall to military dictatorships.
Before long the economic tensions between the different nations competing elbow-to-elbow in Europe’s narrow cockpit would lead to war, as they did repeatedly for centuries, and especially in 1914 and 1939.
The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neo-liberal European Union, but forward, towards workers’ unity across Europe, a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.
It’s time for the anti-EU left to get real, face facts and pull back from its disastrous de facto alliance with some of the most reactionary forces in British politics.
Whatever one thought of them, the Militant Tendency was a serious force within the Britsh labour movement (including the Labour Party) in the 1970s and ’80s. Since leaving the Labour Party in 1991 their influence has waned dramatically and efforts to stand candidates in elections (as TUSC and No2EU) have resulted in derisory votes.
Now, after years of declaring the Labour Party a dead end and a waste of time, the SP finds itself completely nonplussed by the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Here (on last night’s Channel 4 News) Michael Crick interviews the SP’s National Organiser Sarah Sachs-Eldridge about their call to “deselect” Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy whilst not being members of the Labour Party. Crick can scarcely keep a straight face:
NB: The SP’s website describes Crick as an “arch witch-hunter” but as they’re outside the Labour Party it’s difficult to see how this amounts to a “witch-hunt” in any meaningful way.
H/t Alex Dawson
From Tendance Coatesy
After SWP Involvement Makes News, Momentum Publishes Ethical Code – is this enough?
Enfin, les difficultés commencent !
By a route leading back to, amongst others, Tendance Coatesy the New Statesman has published this:
When new group Momentum was launched by Jeremy Corbyn supporters, Labour MPs were immediately alarmed by its decision to allow non-party members to sign up. This, they warned, risked far-left entryism and the creation of a Militant-style “party within a party”.
Their fears were given greater credence yesterday by the announcement by the Socialist Workers Party, the most loathed Trotskyist groupuscule, that it intends to participate in Momentum. The SWP’s “Party Notes” stated: “There are also various initiatives to re-launch the Labour left. Momentum which has the backing of a group of newly elected Corbyn-supporting MPs such as Clive Lewis and Richard Burgon, looks like it might be the most significant to date (Corbyn and McDonnell have also made supporting statements backing it). It does not seem restricted to Labour members, though it says it will aim to encourage people to join Labour. We should go along to any local Momentum meetings with the aim of taking part as open SWP members, suggesting joint activity, and sign up to be on the email lists. A launch meeting in Manchester last week attracted 70 people, many of them new and comrades had a friendly response when they raised common activity.”
For Momentum’s Labour supporters, the involvement of the SWP (see Edward Platt’s 2014 NS piece for an account of the party’s multiple woes) would be a political catastrophe. Indeed, it is precisely because the SWP recognises that its participation would discredit the group that it has adopted this strategy. It intends to support Momentum as the noose supports a hanged man.
It is notable, then, that the group’s founders have moved swiftly to repudiate the SWP. An article on Left Futures, the site edited by Momentum director Jon Lansman, declares: “There are extremely good reasons why the SWP and my erstwhile comrades in the Socialist Party should be told to sling their hook when they try and get involved. A passing acquaintance with them is all it takes to understand that they’re fundamentally uninterested in building the wider labour movement, let alone the Labour Party – which is one of Momentum‘s explicit objectives. During the summer the SWP looked upon stormin’ Corbyn with indifference and barely any comment. For the Socialist Party, because Labour was a “capitalist party” Jeremy couldn’t possibly win and it was dead as far as socialist politics were concerned.
But the suspicion that Momentum will be infiltrated by hostile left-wingers is likely to endure. If SWP members are to be formally excluded from meetings, the new fear is that its activists go undercover (though it is worth recalling how few there now are). Shadow minister Clive Lewis, a Momentum director, told me this week: “If people are concerned about Momentum, all I would say is judge it on what it does.” But for Labour MPs, the jury will remain out for some time.
Momentum published this yesterday
Interim Ethical Code for Individuals and Local Groups Associated with Momentum
Individuals and groups using the Momentum name and branding must operate according to the following principles at all times:
• As the successor to Jeremy Corbyn’s Leadership Campaign, Momentum promotes the values that Jeremy popularised during the campaign, of fair, honest debate focused on policies, not personal attacks or harassment.
• Momentum is outward-facing. It seeks to reach out across the community and encourages the participation of people who may not have been involved in political activities before. Ensuring the safety and self-expression of everyone is a priority, especially of those who are often marginalised on the basis of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, religion, class, disability and educational or economic status.
• Groups of individuals may form local Momentum Groups to share ideas, organise and participate in activities at their local level which demonstrate how ‘Labour values’ and collective effort can make a positive social and/or environmental impact. These groups must be democratic in their nature and be organised around a spirit of collaboration, inclusion and respect.
• As the successor to Jeremy Corbyn’s Leadership Campaign, Momentum promotes the communication of progressive ideas for political change, such as: opposition to austerity, the promotion of equality and participatory democracy. These are the values for which Jeremy Corbyn was elected.
• Momentum is wholly committed to working for progressive political change through methods which are inclusive, participatory and non-violent.
• Momentum seeks to build a social movement in support of the aims of the Labour movement and a fairer and more decent society. Momentum is committed to supporting the Labour Party winning elections and entering government in 2020 and seeks positive and productive engagement with local Labour Party branches.
Individuals and/or groups who do not adhere to the above principles will not be considered to be part of, or associated with, Momentum. Please note that Momentum is its embryonic stage as a network organisation. Our Code of Conduct is likely to develop further along with the governance structures of our organisation.
Whether these interim commitments will make a difference, or become fully codified, remains to be seen.
The principal concern is not setting up measures to avoid being hectored by the SWP/SP. Or even to put a stop to attempts to support break away candidates standing in elections against the Labour Party (which we flagged up).
It is about what the left needs to be done to make itself not ‘populist’ but popular enough to be able to implement our democratic socialist policies.
However democratic and inclusive an internal structure is this Blog’s own view that a lot more needs to be done to reach out not just to ourselves, to ‘new’ people, and movements in civil society. Particular attention should be given to the views of Trade Unions on issues concerning not just budget austerity but privatisation, hiving off local services, and to groups fighting, what is effectively the dismantling of the Welfare state.
For this to have a real impact:
- The left has to appeal, and listen to, those already in the Labour Party who did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn.
- We have to respect the hard work they have put in, over many years, as activists, as Councillors and MPs.
- We have to offer rational well-thought out policies – on austerity, on broader economic issues, on social policy, and on international subjects.
- It is important, therefore, that supporters of Team Corbyn and the new Shadow Cabinet more broadly, work with that section of the Party which wants to see a Labour government elected, our representation on local councils increased and effective policies carried out in local government.
This will not help:
“Momentum England an Unofficial page supporting “Momentum” the movement inspired by Jeremy Corbyn the Leader of the Labour Party #ANewKindOfPolitics.”
2,093 people like this.
The Facebook page (Here) is managed by one Mark Anthony France, Republican Socialist and Labour Party Member.
Politics in Britain and Ireland is being transformed.We have seen a powerful rebellion in Scotland in support of a radical movement for Independence and the spectacular rise of the Scottish National Party.
We see the growth of Sinn Fein both North and South as we approach the 100th Anniversary of the Easter Rising.
In Wales Plaid Cymru is a potent force led by Socialist Republican Leanne WoodIn the Summer of 2015 came an unprecedented mass movement mainly based in England that led to Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Leader of the Labour PartyThere is tremendous momentum for change.
One of the biggest issues that confront all the peoples of these islands is how to manage dynamic towards the break up of the so called ‘United Kingdom’ in a peaceful, democratic way.We encourage debate and discussion about the movement for change and how to maintain and accelerate the Momentum for change towards a genuinely democratic future based upon peoples power.
This chap has a bit of a ‘history’.
With John Tummon Mark Anthony France was the seconder of the (roundly defeated) notorious Caliphate motion at the Left Unity Conference in November 2014 (Extracts: original here)
To show solidarity with the people of the Middle East by supporting the end of the structure of the divided nation states imposed by the Versailles settlement and their replacement by a Caliphate type polity in which diversity and autonomy are protected and nurtured and the mass of people can effectively control executive authority’.
Left Unity distances itself specifically from the use of intemperate, inaccurate and moralist language such as ‘terrorism’, ‘evil’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘viciously reactionary’, ‘murderous’, genocidal’, etc in discussion about the Middle East; these terms are deployed by people and forces seeking not to understand or analyse, but to demonise in order to dominate, and they have no place within socialist discourse.
We also distance ourselves from the Eurocentric brand of secularism that believes that the peoples of the Middle East must accept western terms of reference by consigning their religious faith to a separate part of their lives from their political aspirations, if they are to develop progressive societies.
The story got national attention,
Islamic State’s ‘Progessive Potential’ As ‘Stabilising Force’ Debated By New Left Unity Party. Huffington Post.
The “progressive potential” of Islamic State (IS) had been discussed by a British political party, which also claimed a caliphate created by the brutal Islamist terror group would be a “stabilising force” in the region.
The bizarre proposition was put to members of a new left-wing party in an amendment that said IS’s territorial ambitions were a break from “framework of western-imposed nation states” in the Middle East.
The Left Unity motion added that Islamic State’s call for a pan-Islamic Caliphate to replace the various states of the Muslim world was “an authentic expression of … anti-imperialist aspirations.”
No more than ‘debating’ with the SWP would we wish to ‘discuss’ the idea that we should be sympathetic to an Islamic caliphate.
David Osland writes:
There’s no real difference between Labour and the Tories. Apart from 25 hours free child care, £8 minimum wage, abolishing the bedroom tax and the NHS Act, a freeze on energy bills, a million new homes, a job guarantee for NEETs, £3000 reduction in tuition fees, the introduction of a national care service, reduced GP appointment and cancer test waiting times, thousands of extra nurses and doctors, mansion tax, a ban on MPs taking second jobs, an end to the Free School programme, bankers’ bonus tax and 50p top rate for the rich. But other than that, there’s no real difference between Labour and the Tories.
JD adds: Socialist Party members and (the few) others involved in the rather pathetic ‘T.U.S.C”, should take note.
And as someone in the pub after last Saturday’s Unite The Union United Left meeting (at which the SP/T.U.S.C received a well-deserved hammering), noted, listening to the SP on the subject of the Labour Party, you can’t help thinking of this:
Open Letter to Socialist Party members in Unite: you have crossed a line by standing candidates in marginals
From the United Left’s email list:
This Coalition government has been responsible for attacks on our class that go far beyond anything Thatcher would have dreamed of. Their austerity policies have been targeted on the poor and vulnerable in our society. They have lined the pockets of their Hedge Fund backers and speculators in the City with billions of public money. They have been responsible for attacks on the organised labour movement and have been open in their support for even more draconian legislation if re-elected. New proposed laws which
would make effective trade union action virtually illegal-The Tories are not campaigning in this election as the Hug- A-Hoodie, party that can be trusted with the NHS, they are back as The Nasty Party fighting on a class war programme.
While Unite policy is to support Labour, in fact to do all we can to elect a Labour Government, your organisation has decided to stand candidates in the forthcoming general election. Of course that is your right; we are a trade union not a political party, we do not have any disciplinary means to force you to support union policy and rightly so.
Within the UL there is then a clear political difference; on the one hand the majority, working for a Labour victory who are also intent on developing the left within the Party and your goal, of standing candidates in the election as part of becoming the political alternative to Labour. In our view a big claim for some 1,000 -2,000 people, whose track record in elections is derisory.
While we know we can’t dissuade you from standing candidates we consider you have crossed a line by standing candidates in marginals. We would ask you to withdraw your candidates from the 100 Labour must win marginals. In our view standing in these seats is a breach in a working class front against the Tories.
You are not a rival to Labour. While Labour are standing to win every seat and form a Government, you know very well you will not win one seat let alone form a government. Rather your goal is to recruit to, and make propaganda for your organisation.
By standing in marginals you are not just ‘building the party’ you are also taking votes from Labour – those who vote for you, and those you influence not to vote Labour. While the numbers you convince will be small, in such a tight election where every vote counts you must realise it may mean Labour losing seats, in effect allowing seats to be won by the Tories or their partners in crime the Lib Dems.
The logic of your position goes further; it is to argue, where there is no SP candidate, workers should abstain. If of course we have misunderstood your position then why are you fielding candidates in marginals Labour can win?
The only rationale for this cavalier attitude is because you believe there is no difference between Labour and the other capitalist parties. This is blind sectarianism, yet Labour is supported by nearly every union, and unions are the mass organisations of workers, do the unions not count for anything?
We urge you then as fellow UL members to reconsider standing in marginals and so not breaking the front against the Tories.
Tony Woodhouse UL, Chair Unite Executive Council
Mark Lyons UL, Vice Chair Unite Executive Council
Martin Mayer Chair Unite UL
Terry Abbott UL, Chair North-West Regional Committee
Dick Banks UL, Chair North-East Regional Committee
Liam Gallagher UL, Chair Unite Ireland
Mike Jenkins UL, Chair Unite Wales
Jim Kelly UL, Chair London & Eastern Regional Committee
Gordon Lean UL, Chair South-East Regional Committee
Kev Terry UL, Chair South-West Regional Committee
Above: Mark Serwotka
By James Marine (at the Workers Liberty website)
The Socialist Party (SP) has defended the PCS civil service union’s decision to “suspend” national and Group elections for up to a year. (Groups are the major sub-parts of the union.)
The SP headlined its article: “PCS: Safeguarding its future in the face of vicious Tory attacks”.
“Faced with a temporary but very sharp drop in income as a result of check-off ending, the PCS National Executive Committee (NEC) has had to make difficult decisions to cut expenditure, including suspending for one year the union’s annual elections”.
This is nonsense. Yes, the PCS is facing a financial tough time but not so bad that it cannot afford elections. (Even Greece can afford to vote).
The elections would cost about £650,000 to run yet the union’s magazine costs £700,000 a year to produce. Instead of putting that publication online for a year, the NEC choose to keep it whilst dumping elections.
Then there are full time officer wages. PCS is being colonised by SP members. If they lived up the SP’s policy of full time officers (FTOs) being paid a workers’ wage, then we could “afford” democracy.
The union is selling its headquarters for £25 million. A big chunk of that will plug the hole in one of the union’s pension schemes. Yet there will be more than enough left over to run several elections, let alone just one this year.
Our affiliation to the TUC costs nearly £650,000. In a choice between members having a vote on who represents them or paying hundreds of thousands to the TUC and subsidising Francis O’Grady’s lifestyle, having a vote wins hands down.
In other words there are plenty of ways to afford democracy but the SP doesn’t want them.
By suspending the elections the SP using a real crisis to avoid being judged by the members. There is a good chance this year that the SP would lose seats on the Executive. That could mean putting a proposed merger with Unite in danger.
The Socialist Party and PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, must be condemned across the labour movement. Their actions are disgraceful. If the right wing did this then there would be howls of indignation from the left; because it is Mark Serwotka [known as a leftist and presently in very poor health – JD], the criticism is muted at best. The SP, and Mark Serwotka, have crossed a fundamental line and must be held to account.
But course the best method of accounting, national elections, has been denied members for the time being. When the time comes, then the SP and Mark Serwotka must be driven out of office.
Addendum: in a further article in The Socialist, John McInally (PCS vice president and Socialist Party member) launches into what can only be described as a near-hysterical rant against Unison and critics on the left. At one point (towards the end of the piece) McInally even compares PCS’s refusal to hold elections with the NUM’s decision not to ballot its members in 1984 – a ludicrous comparison with a union that (rightly or wrongly) took a tactical decision in the heat of a major industrial dispute. It’s bizarre, desperate stuff that may well be a sign that the SP feels under pressure – maybe from some within its own ranks – JD