3 March 2021

New stage of Brexit politics

Agreed at a joint aggregate of CPGB and LPM members on December 9, 2018. Published in Weekly Worker 1229, available on the WW archive here. Discussed in Weekly Worker 1231 here


1 – The CPGB from the outset characterised Cameron’s Brexit referendum as a scam. The outcome, assuming the present proposals or something like them are adopted, will turn out to be most of the features of EU membership, but with reduced political democracy. Our view that this was a scam will be confirmed if this does turn out to be the result.

Equally, we argued that neither ‘Lexit’ (left Brexit) nor ‘left remain’ would allow the left to develop a political line which would promote working class political independence. This too has been confirmed. The Morning Star’s ‘Lexitism’ has not promoted any concrete agenda beyond hostility to Labour Party ‘remainers’. The Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales have been quite quiet about their lines on the issue, as if ashamed of it. The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, which has most vigorously defended a ‘left remain’ perspective, has been led to prettify the EU’s neoliberal aspects and airbrush the treatment of migrants by ‘fortress Europe’; and has itself recently admitted that ‘Another Europe is Possible’ has turned into ‘NGO politics’ – in effect, astroturf for a neoliberal ‘remain’.

2 – It appeared at first sight that the 2016 referendum result was an accident, which could be relatively easily reversed. The election of Donald Trump as US president in November 2016 made it clear that it was, on the contrary, partof the general trend towards rightwing nationalist populism, directed against the neoliberal elites of ‘financial globalisation’, which had begun elsewhere well before these events. The UK and US merely came late to this party.

It is this background which has made both the Labour leadership and Tory remainers understandably cautious about being seen to be ‘enemies of the people’ (as Dacre tagged the senior judiciary in November 2016) by openly championing reversal of the decision.

In reality, forms of rightwing nationalist populism have been growing since the late 1990s, for two reasons:

The first is that the true character of neoliberalism has gradually become clear. That is, it creates radical insecurity, and not rising prosperity – except temporarily for places to which production is for a while moved in search of cheap labour and other forms of regulatory arbitrage.

The second is that the left has remained committed to forms of politics which self-identify the left with the dead end of Stalinism – bureaucratic centralism, nationalism, downplaying constitutional issues, broad-frontism and people’s frontism, desperation to get into government, and so on – and hence sterilise any leftward radicalisation. With the left crippling itself, what remains as a (so-called) radical opposition to neoliberal financial globalism is rightwing populism.

The result is the one seen in the political incapacity of both ‘Lexit’ and ‘left remain’. A people’s front with the liberals (left remainism) tags the left with responsibility for the policies which have called forth rightwing populism. Vote Clinton – get Trump. A people’s front with the nationalists (Lexiteering) is merely to tail the rightwing populists. In fact, we know perfectly well that these latter do not deliver on the ‘anti-capitalist’ element of their promises. Vote Trump – get tax cuts for the rich.

3 – The same issues explain the inability of the left on a European scale actually to campaign for the idea that ‘another Europe is possible’. This European left is divided into two groups. On the one side are elements of surviving ‘official’ communism, which cling to ‘socialism in one country’ against the idea of European unity, seeking instead unity with local rightists, or merely providing astroturf for European support for the foreign policy of the Putin administration. On the other side are groups of Eurocommunist origin – or of far-left origin, but influenced by Eurocommunist ideas – which cling to alliance with the liberals and to the constitutional ordersof the EU and the member-states, thus ending as apologists for the EU itself and its policy.

The political institutions of the EU – in particular the parliament and, all the more, the direct parliamentary elections which started in 1979 – created the possibility of common political action of the workers’ movement on an EU-wide scale. It was this possibility which the workers’ movement could haveexploited to develop a political challenge to the rule of capital on a European scale. Any real ‘left remain’ policy would have depended on the European workers’ movement having sufficiently pursued this agenda before 2016, for it to have appeared in 2016 as a real policy alternative to nationalist populism. As it is, it is in Europe as well as in Britain that the left ends up tailing either nationalism or liberalism.

4 – Socialist construction in a single country, and even a left-nationalist or national-reformist break in a single country from the iron cage of the diktats of US imperialist capital and its international institutions (International Monetary Fund and so on), is illusory. The crisis in Venezuela and the liberalising turn in Cuba are examples of this. Production is now too much internationally integrated to be carried on at any level beyond the marginal without access to trade. Through the control of finance, and the elaboration of sanctions against the supply of ‘strategic’ capital goods, the US can effectively choke the economy of any single nation-state. In Europe, the Greek tragedy shows the ability of the EU and its controllers to do the same to any single country. The inability of the Tory Brexiteers to offer a realistic alternative to May’s agreement is yet another symptom of the same thing – eg, Dominic Raab’s failure before he became Brexit minister to appreciate the dependence of UK production on the port of Dover.

It thus remains true that, whether the UK is in or out of the EU, we need working class political action on a continental scale – meaning, for this country, on a European scale – to pose the possibility of an alternative to the choice between neoliberalism and rightwing populism.

On a continental scale, it is possible to pose the possibility of an alternative – because Europe as a whole, unlike Venezuela, Greece, or even the UK, could face down the financial markets, the sanctions and the threats of US military action which would meet such an alternative. But the condition of doing so is to be willing to pose the alternative of radical democracy (and hence the overthrow of the treaties) and socialist reconstruction (and hence extensive socialisation and planning in natura of production). It requires a break with the people’s front policy and constitutional loyalism.

Being out of the EU will act as a disadvantage to pushing such a policy (shared with the Swiss and Norwegian movements) – but a rather marginal one, given the paralysis of the European left by its people’s frontism. Given the condition of the European left, this real disadvantage is not worth the cost of lining up behind the liberals to attempt in the last ditch to reverse the referendum result. Rather, we need to promote the idea of workers’ action on a European scale both within and beyond the EU institutions.

5 – The Labour Party is alsofaced with this problem. As ‘Labour remainers’ have argued, Labour’s 2017 manifesto did not involve any violation of European Union law. It did not do so because it was, in fact, extremely timid – at most slightly to the left of the 2015 manifesto. Labour’s current expressed policy combines elements of nostalgia for a purely national economic solution, reflected in proposals to improve national ‘competitiveness’, with unwillingness to face up to the extent of neoliberal commitments in the current European (and British) legal regimes or to confront the constitutional issues. Labour thus stands Janus-faced in relation to liberalism and nationalism, unwilling to break with either. It does so because the Labour leadership hopes to win ‘power’ (meaning governmental office) without actually persuading a majority to change their minds. This position is reflected in its extreme difficulty in expressing any clear position in the face of the Tory attempts to manoeuvre Labour into a false position.

A Labour government led by Jeremy Corbyn is a relatively unlikely option unless the present parliament runs its full term until 2022 and in the interim a good deal more reselection takes place, without there being a large enough split to hand victory to the Tories. A snap election in the near future, which produced a Labour majority, would result in a rightwing parliamentary party, and would therefore be more likely to lead to a ‘national unity’ government of the labour right with some part of the Tories. An actual Corbyn government would, however, be a worse outcome for the workers’ movement. Contrary to its claims to bring austerity to an end, its constitutional, national and economic commitments would mean that it would be as much imprisoned by the demands of the bankers as was the Syriza government in Greece. Britain is larger than Greece – but as much dependent on trade. The result would be nothing but demoralisation and a further boost for the nationalist right.

If, however, Labour were to break with its constitutionalism and nationalism, and its aspiration to hold office without winning the political support for real change, it could fight for a policy of common action on a European scale for socialism. To set out on the road of building a real and effective opposition, rather than aspiring to immediate governmental office, could be a road to building in the medium term a movement which could challenge for real power Europe-wide.

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