We are posting two pieces from Ireland in the aftermath of the UK Brexit vote. The first is by D.R. O’Connor Lysaght, a member of Socialist Democracy (Ireland) written soon after the result was announced. The second is a collective statement from Socialist Democracy (Ireland).
1. BREXIT – THE HANGOVER
The good news is that the British electorate has dealt a major blow to the liberal capitalist consensus that has guide the politics of western (and, from 1991, eastern) Europe since the Second World War. How bad the damage is uncertain, nonetheless Brexit has brought to the surface a crisis comparable to that which destroyed the Soviet Union. The citizens of the country with the second strongest economy in the European Union have voted to leave it. This is a serious vote of no confidence in the status quo.
Now for the bad news. The blow came from the right. The vote is not against the fact that the EU is to be described most favourably as a guided democracy. As Cameron recognised in his negotiations, democratisation would be opposed by his Eurosceptics (not to mention UKIP) as they would recognise it as legitimising union. Those who voted Leave voted essentially against Europe as such. Despite the word “democracy” being bandied by its advocates, Brexit was above all a nationalist vote, and, from the result, an English nationalist vote. The position of England in the world decided the fact that the European project was opposed increasingly and overwhelmingly on grounds xenophobic and racist. In today’s (27/06) Irish Times, an ornament of the diaspora, Rory Fitzgerald raves about how Brexit is the start of a democratic process to win self-determination for Europe’s nations from the EU. He does not name two of his most prominent fellow thinkers, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders. Apart from the obvious flaws in their democratic credentials, each represents a stronger country in the union. They would leave Germany alone to metropolise the weaker countries. This will leave Europe to be split between western and central-eastern spheres of influence, as before the First World War. One incipient imperialist state will be replaced by rival imperialist blocs once more.
This was always clear enough, yet it did not stop the larger part of the British broad left, including the Communist Party and parts of left Labour from campaigning for Brexit. Of course, the CP claims to believe that a socialist society can be “actually achieved” within a nation state. What of its fellow left Brexiteers? It appears that they saw the EU as an oppressive nation state that blocked progressive innovations by its members. In fact, the EU is not a state, much as its governors would like it to become one. It is an administrative body for finance capital, with no coercive arm. When it humiliated Greece, it had no Panzers, just finance capital’s routine withdrawal of credit and the inexperience and spinelessness of that country’s elected ministers. Moreover, Britain is not Greece; in or out of the EU, it is in a strong position to defy the Union’s dictats with impunity. The capitalist politicians who preach Brexit know that that that union has performed a useful function as a scapegoat for their own chosen austerity policies. They moved still to break from it because of its “rules and regulations”, more specifically (outside UKIP they are not itemised) those rules and regulations protecting women’s rights, the environment and, of course, work conditions, all of which stand in the way of the profit maximisation that they see as necessary to economic growth for them and then perhaps their employees. They could not repeal these without opposition from above (the EU) and below (the working people). Now they need only fear the latter, rely on the workers movement’s supine leaders and on the fear of immigrants as the real enemy. If this seems far-fetched, it is only necessary to remember how the industrial bosses of Ulster used sectarianism as a productive force. The one bright spot in that comparison is that the Ulster bosses were able to grow as part of a world growing industrial capitalism; today’s Eurobosses have a diminishing share of the international market. In or out of the EU, their dominance will see austerity getting worse, and resistance to it increasing.
So: how to fight back? The call for a Europe-wide Anti-Austerity campaign is correct in itself but it has to be a genuine united front and not just a cover for one particular international group. There are more specific problems in such a construction. Post Brexit, it is likely that it will be opposed by more determined and openly nationalist (if not xenophobic) governments. On past form, the official working class leaderships will fail to oppose them adequately if, indeed, they don’t capitulate altogether. (Already the Anti-Corbynites are calling for their party to “recognise genuine working class concerns” about immigration.) To win, these fakirs must be recognised as being as much enemies of the class they claim to represent as the old soviet bureaucrats.
After Brexit, working class resistance will be more difficult. It will not be impossible.
27 June 2016
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2. SOCIALIST DEMOCRACY STATEMENT ON THE BREXIT VOTE
END DAYS OF AN OLD ORDER
One question asked immediately after the Brexit referendum was why it should not be run again. After all, the Irish were sent back to vote again on European referenda when they produced the wrong answer.
But in Ireland outbursts of anti-imperialist sentiment among the workers has little echo among the political parties. In Britain reactionary racism, the interests of the small proprietor and nostalgic imperialism fuels ultra-right movements inside and outside the Tory party. Rather than a failure of judgement by PM Cameron, this was the final act in a long-simmering war that stretches back before Thatcher and has finally burst though all the barriers meant to confine it.
As with all referenda it will be up to the British government, representing British capital, to pick and choose among the elements available to define a new relationship with Europe. That relationship will not be the illusory independence proclaimed by the Brexiteers. Their own lies, lack of unity and absence of a coherent programme will prevent this.
However the outcome cannot disguise an eye-watering shift to the right. Whatever is said, the vote was based on anti-migrant sentiment and the aftermath will see new levels of racism.
The way in which the fascist murder of Labour MP Jo Cox was brushed off was an indication of the confidence of the reactionaries and the willingness of state and media to conciliate them. UKIP leader Nigel Farage later said that the campaign was won “without a shot being fired”.
The new Tory leadership will move the party light years to the right of Margaret Thatcher. Alongside a growing racism and the scrapping of human rights will come further welfare cuts, attacks on disability rights, hammering of workplace and wage protection. The aim of the Tory right will be the construction of a low wage sweatshop economy.
A wave of reaction
The wave of reaction reaches deep into Europe. Unending austerity has reached a limit and brought revolt, but trade union and Social Democratic organizations have clung desperately to reviving capitalism. Now the torch of revolt is in the hands of racists and reactionaries.
Many see a chink of light in the remain vote in Scotland. Yet the leadership of the Scottish movement is in the hands of the capitalist SNP. While they lack the repulsive smell of the empire loyalists of the British right, it is illusory to image that their manoeuvring would serve the workers or indeed that any expression of loyalty to Europe would lead to any reciprocal support or mercy from European capital.
The remain vote in the North of Ireland led Sinn Fein to call for a border poll. The result was a demonstration of their haplessness, as both the DUP and the British rejected the call immediately. However Brexit will accelerate the decay in the Irish peace process as recession hits and European bribes dry up. The extent to which the peace process is held up by a network of grants is wildly underestimated.
Above all Brexit will accelerate the collapse of Sinn Fein. The return of physical border posts between North and South would leave even the most loyal of their supporters questioning the leadership.
The crisis underlines the subordination of Irish capital to imperialism. Inflated claims are made of finance capital relocating to Dublin, but early indications are of movement to Paris. Speaking English and an eagerness to please is a poor substitute for a fully developed electronic infrastructure.
Trade with Britain is set at 16% of GDP, but this is aircraft carrier Ireland, whose economy is dominated by transnational capital. In the ramshackle native economy trade with Britain stands at 40% of GNP and new tariffs would prove crippling.
In any case Irish capitalist rule, highly unstable after years of austerity, again faces crisis and recession. The return of a physical border will indicate the illusory nature of the peace settlement and increase that instability.
Ever closer union?
The most significant outcome of the Brexit vote is the death knell of the European project. “Ever closer union” held out an insubstantial vision of a united European superstate guaranteeing prosperity, where a universal legal system would underpin both workers rights and human rights in general.
In reality Europe has never advanced beyond a jumble of national states, with the core dominating the periphery.
Trade union leaders have clung desperately to the idea that capitalist modernisation will advance workers rights and have burrowed into endless commissions. Meanwhile Europe has advanced an unrelenting diet of austerity, privatisation and deregulation.
The European powers have lined up behind the US to bring carnage to Afghanistan, Africa and the Middle East. When the result of their policies is the arrival of desperate refugees, Europe reacts with racist barbarism. The refugees die at sea, rot in camps and are handed over to the tender mercies of the Turkish regime. The leading charity Médecins Sans Frontières refused European funding as the very concepts of human rights and refugee status were torn up before their eyes.
Barbarism is not limited to refugees. Sections of the Greek working class are reduced to the point of famine to demonstrate to European workers that there is no alternative to paying the bondholders.
Now Brexit spells the death knell. A weak European economy faces instability and crisis. The idea that capital will unite to bring a return of prosperity seems laughable and hordes of right wing goons across the continent get ready to follow the British example and carve out their own miniature empires from the rubble. European capital can hold the right at bay for now, but can no longer advance an overarching vision of progress.
However today’s crisis is not only a crisis of capital. The mirroring of the Tory leadership battle inside the Labour party tells us that. The Tory battle reflects different interests within capital. What is the division within Labour?
The Labour right, long partners in Britain’s imperial project, are somewhat shy of displaying their programme, reduced to a disgusting litany of personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. “He’s no leader” scream those who fawned behind the great leader Tony Blair. Corbyn refused to lead them in adulation of the European project and refused to capitulate to the demonization of refugees through the racist claims of taking British jobs and being the cause of housing and public service shortages.
Whatever happens a long chapter in British labour history is over. Even if the right win they will be unable to attract mass support for a programme of collaboration with liberal capitalism.
It should also be said that the various socialist currents were tested by the referendum and failed the test. Only the blind could be unaware of the class forces at work. The Lexit argument was one of magical thinking – a belief that a crisis for capital is automatically good for workers and that a workers movement can be built without workers being conscious of their class interests. Nor were these failings a temporary aberration. They were fuelled by opportunism, by a constant dance to the right and by a tail-ending reformism.
It is suggested that we avoid back-biting and all unite to “fight the cuts.” However, as the Labour right have demonstrated, it is actually a time for drawing lines in the sand. When the dust settles there will be a new labour movement and the socialists will have to demonstrate that they can play a useful role in it.
The struggle will be initially fought around the Labour leadership battle. Socialists should provide some basic guidelines:
Unconditional support for migrants and refugees. As with all other workers they represent a vast well of untapped creativity. The failure here is the failure of capitalism. We should not sacrifice ourselves to capitalism’s inability to turn a profit or accept a scapegoat designed to tear the workers’ movement apart.
Zero support for a capitalist Europe. The claims of European process are a myth. The fate of Greece, of refugees, troops gathering on Russia’s borders and of endless foreign wars tells us all we need to know.
For a United Socialist States of Europe! This slogan is of fundamental importance. As the old capitalist order breaks up the workers must assert an independent programme or become victims of the various factions.
There is much to play for. The Blairites have been flushed out, but it has passed notice that many of Corbyn’s “left” trade union backers actually support elements of the Blairite programme. Len McCluskey of UNITE has strongly supported the migration restrictions advocated by the right.
A defence of Corbyn does not mean support for his calls for unity. The traitors must go and a new party be built. No matter what the to and fro of capitalist battles, even further austerity is on the way and the workers must fight. They will be led by the youth who overwhelmingly rejected Brexit and who immediately become the target in escalating class war.
The battle of Britain will be fought across Europe. It falls to us all to build our own national movement and the transnational movement that will bring the European workers centre stage.
29 June 2016
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