Aug 03 2016

IF NOT NOW, WHEN?

The RCN has been debating the EU referendum both amongst ourselves and in wider arenas.  Here Murdo Ritchie provides an argument in favour of voting ‘Leave’. This was first posted as a Comment after the article by Allan Armstrong at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/07/03/an-open-letter-to-lexiters/

This is followed by an extensive commentary by Steve Freeman (RSA and LUP) 

1, IF NOT NOW – WHEN?

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Firstly, I was always clear about what the issues were in this Referendum. The issues in the forthcoming referendum have little to do with wider issues such as immigration, European unity, greater trade and economic co-operation, more mobility, and the right to work and study in other European countries, but are:-

a. should support be given to the EU as an institution; and,
b. should endorsement be given for Prime Minister David Cameron’s so-called reform package.
It is worth remembering what Prime Minister Cameron’s reform package (1) was:

1. Restrictions on EU migrants being able to claim in-work benefits for seven years
2. Restrictions on EU migrants being able to claim child benefits at the domestic rate but only at the rate of their donor countries;
3. An “opt-out” from attempts to forge “an ever closer union”;
4. An exemption for the City of London from further financial regulations although he also advocated a so-called Financial Markets Union.

A vote to Remain would have been taken as an endorsement of these proposals and put in place as quickly as possible. You are correct to claim that the “Brexiters provided no programme for [future] negotiations.” They did not need to. The leaders of the official state financed and approved campaigns were windbags who had no idea what they wanted. But the vote to Leave was an expression of anger and disenchantment with many issues such as employment rights, housing, even as a protest against the cuts in the NHS, and many other opinions at drastic divergence from what the formal leaders of the various Leave campaigns promoted. However, the massive number of powerful forces that backed the Remain camp throughout the referendum revealed where real power always lay.

Secondly, I never confused Europe with the European Union as an institution. There are many interpretations of Europe as well as actions within it that can and should receive support. At no time have I ever advocated withdrawal from the larger Council of Europe. I notice that for different reasons Professor John Foster also takes this position (2).

Thirdly, I promoted the old socialist position that workers’ organisations should not give political support to capitalist governments, states, laws, or treaties. That is why workers must build organisations and pursue politically independent goals from all other classes as well as create the necessary socialist consciousness to power them. It is sad that by trying to be too clever many missed the point and became supporters of different capitalist interest groups and factions.

Fourthly, I was clear that any campaign should be advanced in a republican manner. The UK state’s use of hangovers from the seventeenth century of political and administrative government such as the doctrine of the Crown-in-Parliament as well as the use of various Crown Powers make it absurd to claim that Westminster is more “democratic” than the institutions of the EU, or conversely that the corrupt and elite mechanisms of the EU are more “democratic” than the UK parliament. Both approaches are wrong and that fundamental republican changes are required of both such as clear rights. Ideally, this Referendum should have raised the level of popular conscious about what is wrong with the European Union. Instead we underwent a faux debate on immigration that also failed to address the many dilemmas that arise from creating a mobile, disposable workforce. But you know that too.

It was alarming how all levels of Remain supporters used fear and panic as well as a fixation on the pompous self-serving absurdities of the official Leave campaign to slander those calling to Leave by using guilt-by-association types of arguments. Everything from greater risk of nuclear war, collapses in house prices, loss of credit ratings, falls in the pound etc., etc.. But it has not just been the leaders of Remain who have used these arguments. There is now a large layer of officials in numerous so-called professions who have a vested interest in promoting fears of imminent disasters. It has made it very difficult for some to see the real dynamics of the Referendum. This social layer believe themselves a “meritocracy”; they are not the capitalist class or even a petty bourgeoisie; they may even work for charities or the liberal and caring professions. John Pilger describes them this way, “The most effective propagandists of the ‘European ideal’ have not been the far right, but an insufferably patrician class for whom metropolitan London is the United Kingdom. Its leading members see themselves as liberal, enlightened, cultivated tribunes of the twenty-first century zeitgeist, even ‘cool.’ What they really are is a bourgeoisie with insatiable consumer tastes and ancient instincts of their own superiority.” (3) I do not entirely agree with that last sentence because there are numerous “lower” professionals who are not a bourgeoisie but identify themselves with this group; this was apparent during this debate.

It will not be easy to leave the EU, because it involves thousands of different treaties and practices; some of them with governments and organisations outside the EU’s orbit. It may take a generation. Powerful interest groups were happy to unleash this Referendum in the mistaken belief it could be easily defeated. They were wrong. It is unlikely that another Referendum will occur. It also seems unlikely that Westminster dare so blatantly override the “democratic” mandate that it did not believe would occur. Instead legal challenges, including judicial reviews will be used to circumvent the result. At present, there are seven legal actions lodged. “The lead case for the legal challenge,” according to The New European, “will be that brought by an investment manager and philanthropist, Gina Miller 51, who lives in London. Her claim is being co-ordinated by the law firm Mishcon de Reya. Other cases involve French expatriates and one from a Polish national.” (4). Many of the individuals in these cases currently wish to remain anonymous. However, it is unlikely that the initial batches will succeed, but cases designed to undermine the result will occur again and again until its authority is substantially eroded.

The Referendum debate was side-tracked away from a discussion about the nature of the European Union as an institution, European integration or the most appropriate ways this could be achieved. Because the left does not see its purpose as pursuing governmental power for the working class by political means, it becomes fixated on social issues that disable it from challenging for power. This is true for this social layer of so-called “meritocrats.” This produced a debate that supposedly centred on immigration. It was a false debate because it failed to outline the real issues about migration either. It seems bizarre to fight to remain in the EU on behalf of migrants when many are only in the host countries because of the economic failures of the EU. Most importantly, it ignore that one of the main conditions of membership of the EU is to “privilege” migrants from EU countries at the expense of those from non-EU countries who feel the pressures more acutely. One Ghanaian nurse explained why she was voting to Leave, “otherwise all the Eastern Europeans will take away the jobs that Africans can do, making it more difficult for Ghanaians who want to work in the UK.” (5) The issue of migration is complex and requires a more developed understanding or it will simply play on liberal guilt that always manages to ignore the most disadvantaged to address the concerns of those with the loudest voices.

This campaign saw the murder of one Member of Parliament by a lone individual who used racist arguments to justify himself. He was universally condemned. There are claims that there have been increases in racist/ anti-migrant/ and anti-muslim incidents. However, because of the nature of the way these are channelled by self-interested groups and individuals it is hard to establish if they are wholly accurate. As one writer who believes there has been an increase in such incidents puts it, “Every fortnight the Institute of Race Relations publishes a round –up of racist incidents and far right activity. Many of the stories – verbal abuse on public transport, vandalism of religious memorial or places of worship, poorly attended protests by extremist groups- are culled from the local press. They’re not usually considered important enough to merit national attention. … Now they are.” (6) These are hardly the most reliable methods of gauging if an increase in racist activity has occurred.

Unfortunately, there seems a desperate desire to claim an enormous social disaster has occurred. Allan Armstrong’s  ‘Open Letter is yet another example of this phenomenon. Some time ago you were claiming that the outcome of a vote to Leave would be a Carnival of Reaction. This is a term used by James Connolly to describe the likely outcome of the partition or Ireland. This term describes more than the setback of another right-wing government coming to office. It describes a time when workers are driven from their jobs, families burned out of their homes and many other atrocities such as occurred during the Independence war. It could also describe much of Europe as fascism grew in in power during the twenties and thirties. But, perhaps the most important feature of a Carnival of Reaction is the way supposedly “neutral” government authorities encourage or, at the very least, stand aloof from such actions. No such situation exists at this time. Indeed we have a ridiculous Tory government that has no idea how to extricate itself from the EU or why it is even there. There is little difference between it and its immediate predecessor.

It is to Allan’s credit that you are concerned about migrant workers. Their situation is complicated. There is a case for obtaining greater migrant rights. But as you know this is a country where no subject has any rights stronger than existing statutory law and custom and practice. Migrant rights need to be approached from a republican perspective with some form of constitutional rights complementing statutory rights. However, migrant rights should not be used as a reason for remaining in the EU.

If you believe in migrant rights, then fight for migrant rights. If you believe in greater mobility of labour, then fight for more mobility of labour. If you want more international student exchanges then fight for more student exchanges. But do not use guilt about migrants as means to stay in a corrupt, ever more militaristic, capitalist institution that only addresses the needs of a European elite. By taking attention away from the nature of this institution you have to increase any more consciousness. Indeed you have painted it as less harmful than it really is, especially in producing waves of desperate people who have no other choice than to uproot themselves to find work in other countries.

The reasons for a drastically different vote in Northern Ireland and Scotland have little to do with the rise of a greater civic consciousness. In northern Ireland the issue of the border began to dissolve as various types of economic convergence occurred. That is no longer possible. The border has become an issue yet again. Interestingly, the same is also true for Gibraltar and UK-Spanish relations. Scotland is experiencing a period of nationalist hegemony that may last a generation. The demand of the SNP that people vote to Remain carried enormous weight. Nichola Sturgeon’s greatest fear is that she has to lead a campaign for an independent Scotland to join the already discredited EU with its aquis communautaire of compulsory obligations to join the Euro and adopt Schengen border controls and much else. This is why she is hoping to continue existing EU membership. It is a strategy that will most likely fail.

The chance to break with one component of capitalism’s entangling tentacles occurred. And much of the left failed to take the opportunity. At times you want to condemn the “EU bureaucracy” but when the opportunity arose in this once-in-lifetime Referendum you chose to keep them in place. If you really do oppose them then you must act. Otherwise, if not now, when?

By voting to leave the EU, the UK government has collapsed. It demonstrated that popular power can change governments. Farage and Gove are gone, they will be quickly joined by Boris and Theresa May. The Tories will have a succession of leaders like they had between 1997 and 2006. It will not be as easy as they imagine to leave the EU; it is an entangling set of treaties. But it means they can no longer blame Brussels for their own actions. No longer will union officials be able to say to workers that actions are against EU law. The real level of the pound sterling –overvalued for decades- is now establishing itself. The fictitious economic growth figures of EU membership will show themselves as worthless. And much else. It removes part of the international mechanisms that reinforce the modern imperialist state. Discovering the real state of affairs is not reaction unless you’ve bought into the fantasy too.

References

1. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/eu-reform-pms-letter-to-president-of-the-european-council-donald-tusk
2. John Foster, Britain and the EU. What Next? A Communist Party Publication. 2016.
3. John Pilger op cit..
4. The New European, Friday, July 22nd, 2016.
5. Cited in “Opinion. Brexit and the Black Atlantic,” New African, July 2016, No 563.
6. Daniel Trilling in “Where Are We Now? Responses to the Referendum”, in London Review of Books Volume 38, Number 14, July 14th, 2016.

__________

2. STEVE FREEMAN COMMENTS ON MURDO RITCHIE’S ‘IF NOT NOW, WHEN’

I am responding to Murdo’s article by interspersing comments within his original text in italics hading it yellow

A Response to Alan Armstrong’s Open Letter to So-Called Lexiters1

Murdo – It does you little credit to place false arguments in the mouths of those who called for the UK to leave the European Union. You make no devastating criticism by demolishing them. Furthermore, you do yourself little credit by the sneering tone of condescension you use. Sadly this approach has been typical of many in the Remain camp. John Pilger has called it “sheer arrogance”2; John Harris in his Guardian videoblogs also observed this, “I had been in Manchester at a recruitment fair where nine out of ten of our interviewees were supporting Remain, and some voices spoke about Leave voters with a cold superiority. ‘In the end, this is the twenty-first century,’ said one twentysomething. ‘Get with it.’ Not for the first time, the atmosphere around the referendum had the sulphurous whiff not just of inequality, but a kind of misshapen class war.”3

Steve – I won’t or can’t comment on Allan’s tone as he is best placed to answer. I will comment on ‘workerism’ as represented by Pilger and Harris. They criticise some young middle class types for ‘sneering’ at Northern Brexit workers. But the Northern proletariat versus the London middle class is also a “misshapen class war”.

The working class are divided. The Tory press have identified the working class with Brexit, not with remain. Yet two thirds of Labour voters were remain. Working class cities such as Liverpool and Manchester had remain majorities, impossible without mass working class support.

The Sun does a good line in “misshapen class war”. The Murdoch Sun likes to think it is the paper of the proletariat, the ordinary working man. It sings the same song- the real working class were for Brexit. The Sun reading proletariat doesn’t like trendy middle class Corbynista types or immigrants taking their jobs and cutting their wages. Hence UKIP is the party representing the ‘real’ working class etc.

Of course there were as many middle class sneering types on the exit side – hardly surprising under the leadership of Johnson, Gove and Farage. These were sneering at Remainers, claiming there were London trendy wine sipping middle classes who don’t understand life up north. Pilger and Harris only went to the places where middle class Remainers were found. No middle class Brexiteers or proletarian Remainers attended their dinner parties.

So for us the question is not sneering one way or the other but trying to work out why the working class were divided and how they can be reunited in the future.

Murdo – It is sad you claim that those advocating a Leave position believed that there would be “taking to the streets or striking against the austerity drive.” You know that is not true. I cannot speak for all those voting to Leave because the poor response of the left did not allow a “consensus” approach to form. But you know the position I advocated so your generalisation is entirely unfair.

Firstly, I was always clear about what the issues were in this Referendum. The issues in the forthcoming referendum have little to do with wider issues such as immigration, European unity, greater trade and economic co-operation, more mobility, and the right to work and study in other European countries, but are:-

a. should support be given to the EU as an institution; and,

b. should endorsement be given for Prime Minister David Cameron’s so-called reform package.

Steve – Many issues are entangled and it is better to separate them. So I will suggest four levels.

Level 1) Whether remaining in the EU or leaving the EU over the next period is objectively progressive or reactionary – this is a theoretical question for Marxists – involving concepts about capitalism, neo-liberalism, democratic revolution etc.

Level 2) Whether the specific Tory options in the Tory ballot give us a progressive option. So I think your point a) is a theoretical concept and b) is about the Tory ballot paper

Level 3) The motives of different classes in voting one way or another. Why?

Level 4) The motives of different sections of the working class and working class individuals have in voting one way or another. Why did some workers vote on one side or the other?

Level 1). Theory and strategy – at the level of Marxist theory, leaving the EU is objectively reactionary and will take the working class movement backward. If the UK leaves the EU the working class will be weaker and more divided and reactionary forces strengthened. This is a prediction derived from theory. If it is correct then it doesn’t matter if millions of workers or even the majority of the working class votes to leave, it will still have reactionary and divisive consequences. Now of course this theory-prediction might be wrong in which case the working class will gain from leaving and bad theories will be or deserve to be destroyed.

European revolution

A theory of capitalist development and European democratic revolution is central to the question of progress and reaction. It concerns the long term political aims of the revolution and the revolutionary working class. This has nothing to do with the referendum because it remains true with or without a referendum and whatever it says on the ballot paper.

Our long term perspective is or must be the European (and world) revolution. The situation in Scotland, Ireland, Spain and Greece are local democratic components. The European democratic revolution arises unevenly within the EU out of the contradictions of the development of capitalism in Europe. The EU is not the same as Europe but stands at its core. European economic integration over the last forty years has served to develop a working class transmission mechanism. Democratic movements in Scotland, Spain and Greece are more directly connected than ever before. [This is why the old democratic slogan of a republican United States of Europe is relevant today]. Nationalists see Scottish democracy as a Scottish question and internationalists view it as part of the European democratic revolution.

If we bring both parts into one – Scotland and Northern Ireland are the most advanced parts of the UK revolution and England is the most conservative. Hence Scotland and Northern Ireland are more likely to vote remain and England will vote to leave. It is no coincidence that Scotland has recently been the most advanced part of the UK democratic movement and had the largest vote for remain. It reflects the uneven development of the UK revolution. Hence politics in Scotland and Northern Ireland are different to England and this must be taken into account.

I agree with Murdo that republican slogans and politics are central but these flow out of the democratic revolution. So my criticism of what Murdo writes is that he does not anchor his position in any theory of revolution. No case has been made that leaving the EU aids the European democratic revolution. On the contrary it is about breaking up the European revolution and hence Brexit is a movement of the right and a focal point for right wing counter-revolutionary forces. The fact that the SWP and SP joined the exit camp did not change reality.

Level 2) Tory referendum

On the Tory referendum I partly agree and partly disagree with Murdo. [He says the referendum was between a) should support be given to the EU as an institution; and, b.) Should endorsement be given for Prime Minister David Cameron’s so-called reform package?]

The starting point has to be what was on the ballot paper a) should say “Remain in the EU” and b) “Leave the EU”. We must start from that and not something we substitute. However I do agree with your point b). “Remain in the EU” was formally written on the ballot paper. But it was not the truth. We were not voting for the conservative option, the status quo, but for Cameron’s reactionary reform package as you say –

Murdo – It is worth remembering what Prime Minister Cameron’s reform package4 was:

1. Restrictions on EU migrants being able to claim in-work benefits for seven years

2. Restrictions on EU migrants being able to claim child benefits at the domestic rate but only at the rate of their donor countries;

3. An “opt-out” from attempts to forge “an ever closer union”;

4. An exemption for the City of London from further financial regulations although he also advocated a so-called Financial Markets Union.

Steve – agree with Murdo’s points above about “Prime Minister Cameron’s reform package”

Murdo – A vote to Remain would have been taken as an endorsement of these proposals and put in place as quickly as possible. You (meaning AA) are correct to claim that the “Brexiters provided no programme for [future] negotiations.” They did not need to. The leaders of the official state financed and approved campaigns were windbags who had no idea what they wanted.

Steve – Imagine we were given two boxes or packages, one labelled ‘Remain’ and the other ‘Leave’, to vote for. Once the votes are counted we open the box and see what is inside. Had a majority voted ‘Remain’ and opened the box we would get exactly what you say in b). What we voted for is inside the box.

This is where I have a disagreement with Allan because he is saying it was a vote between conservative-remain and reactionary-leave, whereas I believe it was between a ‘reactionary (version of) remain’ and ‘reactionary-leave’. So words on the ballot paper have be taken seriously but remain option was ambiguous between what it formally said and what you actually get.

In fact the UK voted ‘Leave’ and when we opened this box there was nothing very definite inside. Some have said we should find a Norwegian or Canadian present. Nobody is really sure what we got apart from three Brexit Ministers and article 50 to begin eventually.

It is important to recognise the two packages did not have equal status. Remain was a present promised by Her Majesty’s Government in office. Leave was a present promised by a non-party and non-governing coalition, not even a government in waiting. Their promises, and there were many, were not worth the paper they weren’t written on.

The case for Abstention was about opposing both Tory Leave and Tory Remain. So I agree with Allan that Leave is reactionary and with you about the reactionary nature of the Cameron’s Remain.

European revolution and Tory referendum

How does the European revolution impact on the Tory referendum? Scotland and Northern Ireland are the most advanced parts of the UK revolution. England is the most conservative. Therefore it is predictable that people in Scotland and Northern Ireland will not vote to leave. The democratic movement and democratic consciousness is more advanced. Illusions in Great British democracy are weaker. Recent history of England is more conservative. England is more likely to vote for Brexit.

Sinn Fein, the SNP and UKIP are a mass expression of radical politics. The first two called for a Remain vote and the latter stood for Leave. In Northern Ireland and Scotland mass radical politics stands to the left and in England (and Wales) stands on the right. [The arrival of the Corbyn movement is changing that]

The UK national question is a manifestation of the European democratic revolution. This has to be taken into account in how we call on workers to vote in the Tory referendum. An ‘All-British’ or British Unionist line takes no account of the national question. Mass abstention or mass opposition to the divisive and reactionary Tory referendum was the right policy for England. But only a handful of socialists took that position.

The democratic revolution in the UK is in a cul-de-sac. Sinn Fein has been incorporated by the Crown. The movement in Scotland was defeated in the 2014 referendum. Both an All-UK remain or an All-UK leave would hold back or delay the European revolution. However there is one outcome which aids the revolution. If England votes leave and Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales votes remain then the national question is alive again. It

is game on. Hence the slogan “Scotland remains and England abstains” was for me the best case scenario from a republican socialist and working class perspective and what we got was “Scotland remains and England leaves”.

Level 4) Working class motives

Murdo – But the vote to Leave was an expression of anger and disenchantment with many issues such as employment rights, housing, even as a protest against the cuts in the NHS, and many other opinions at drastic divergence from what the formal leaders of the various Leave campaigns promoted.

Steve – Why did some workers vote on one side or the other? The working class voted on both sides and were thus divided. It is not true that the working class were for exit versus the middle class were for remain. Two thirds of Labour voters including the trade unionists voted remain. It seems that in England the least organised, poorest paid and most oppressed sections of the working class voted leave. But don’t forget a third of the working class vote Tory anyway.

Your explanation for Leave was that it was an “expression of anger and disenchantment with many issues such as employment rights, housing, even as a protest against the cuts in the NHS, and many other opinions at drastic divergence from what the formal leaders of the various Leave campaigns promoted.” This is true. You should not forget democratic motives (take control of the country) and control of immigration blamed for lowering wages etc.

Workers supporting the SWP and Socialist Party voted to leave for very different motives from workers supporting UKIP. The SWP said there would be benefit from getting rid of Cameron. Exit gave Cameron the sack (but we got May and Johnson instead. Even though May has put on a ‘left’ face, this is a very right wing anti-working class government).

Some workers were persuaded that exit will benefit them because reactionary forces like UKIP held up a vision of a better future based on a past in which the UK was a strong independent (imperialist) country with proper jobs in manufacturing and mining etc. This looked back to imagine a time before the Common Market and before mass migration.

Why did the other section of the working class vote remain? – Job security, defending European social rights, internationalism, hostility to Farage and Johnson, membership of a trade union etc. Two halves of the working class did not agree where their interests lay. One side felt leave would improve their lot and the other side it was better to stay where we are and remain in.

We can’t ‘read off’ the validity of remain or leave from voter sociology. No socialist would accept bourgeois elitism that clever workers voted remain and stupid workers voted leave. Class politics is different from “Workerism”. The latter is the disguise adopted by intellectuals who patronise the working class to conceal the real class politics. You identify one side of this in referring to “the atmosphere around the referendum had the sulphurous whiff not just of inequality, but a kind of misshapen class war.” But patronising workerism has two sides – superiority and looking down on the ignorant – and flattering backward ideas because they come from proletarian mouths.

Level 3) The motives of different classes in voting one way or another. Why?

Murdo – You say “However, the massive number of powerful forces that backed the Remain camp throughout the referendum revealed where real power always lay”.

Steve – it is true that the British Crown, represented by HMG backed ‘remain’ and behind them were powerful capitalist forces. We can say that the British ruling class was mainly for remain. Neither myself nor Allan denied or concealed this. But capitalist forces backed exit, not least most small businesses and the hedge funds.

Murdo – Secondly, I never confused Europe with the European Union as an institution. There are many interpretations of Europe as well as actions within it that can and should receive support. At no time have I ever advocated withdrawal from the larger Council of Europe. I notice that for different reasons Professor John Foster also takes this position.5

Thirdly, I promoted the old socialist position that workers’ organisations should not give political support to capitalist governments, states, laws, or treaties. [Steve – If this is true what about the Council of Europe above?]. That is why workers must build organisations and pursue politically independent goals from all other classes as well as create the necessary socialist consciousness to power them. It is sad that by trying to be too clever many missed the point and became supporters of different capitalist interest groups and factions.

Steve – Suppose it depends on what you mean by “political support”. If the choice between being in the capitalist EU or being in an independent capitalist UK does not mean we ‘support’ either.

Murdo- Fourthly, I was clear that any campaign should be advanced in a republican manner. The UK state’s use of hangovers from the seventeenth century of political and administrative government such as the doctrine of the Crown-in-Parliament as well as the use of various Crown Powers make it absurd to claim that Westminster is more “democratic” than the institutions of the EU, or conversely that the corrupt and elite mechanisms of the EU are more “democratic” than the UK parliament. Both approaches are wrong and that fundamental republican changes are required of both such as clear rights. Ideally, this Referendum should have raised the level of popular conscious about what is wrong with the European Union. Instead we underwent a faux debate on immigration that also failed to address the many dilemmas that arise from creating a mobile, disposable workforce. But you know that too.

Steve – Here we are in agreement and this is what the RSA said and what I wrote. You said “Ideally, this Referendum should have raised the level of popular conscious about what is wrong with the European Union”. This seems a bit partial. I would add “raised the level of popular conscious about what is wrong with” UK democracy. In both cases we need a popular democratic revolution in Scotland, UK and Europe.

Murdo – It was alarming how all levels of Remain supporters used fear and panic as well as a fixation on the pompous self-serving absurdities of the official Leave campaign to slander those calling to Leave by using guilt-by-association types of arguments. Everything from greater risk of nuclear war, collapses in house prices, loss of credit ratings, falls in the pound etc., etc. But it has not just been the leaders of Remain who have used these arguments.

There is now a large layer of officials in numerous so-called professions who have a vested interest in promoting fears of imminent disasters. It has made it very difficult for some to see the real dynamics of the Referendum. This social layer believes themselves a “meritocracy”; they are not the capitalist class or even a petty bourgeoisie; they may even work for charities or the liberal and caring professions. John Pilger describes them this way, “The most effective propagandists of the ‘European ideal’ have not been the far right, but an insufferably patrician class for whom metropolitan London is the United Kingdom. Its leading members see themselves as liberal, enlightened, cultivated tribunes of the twenty-first century zeitgeist, even ‘cool.’ What they really are is a bourgeoisie with insatiable consumer tastes and ancient instincts of their own superiority.”6 I do not entirely agree with that last sentence because there are numerous “lower” professionals who are not a bourgeoisie but identify themselves with this group; this was apparent during this debate.

Steve – Unfortunately although Pilgers’s observations may be partly true this is bourgeois sociology not Marxist class struggle analysis. Pilger is not considering the proletariat but taking a pot shot at the kinds of people he meets in his London circles – “an insufferably patrician class” and members of the “meritocracy”. He must be socialising with a layer of self employed professionals who identify with Europe. There are many young university educated people who think of themselves as Europeans. In London there are many young workers, some from the EU, working in the service sector and who identify with Europe.

Murdo – It will not be easy to leave the EU, because it involves thousands of different treaties and practices; some of them with governments and organisations outside the EU’s orbit. It may take a generation.

Steve – Your observation here is a most important point. It will be very difficult, time consuming and disruptive to disentangle all these treaties and practices. These are not just about legal matters. Behind them are the economic relations to be reorganised, all the supply chains and networks to be reconfigured and reengineered.

The UKIP-Tory slogan “we’ll carry on trading” does not begin to deal with the problems or who will have to pay for all this.

Murdo – Powerful interest groups were happy to unleash this Referendum in the mistaken belief it could be easily defeated. They were wrong.

Steve – I don’t think this was true. Most of the powerful interest groups were annoyed that Cameron did this not least because it was an unnecessary gamble.

Murdo – It is unlikely that another Referendum will occur. It also seems unlikely that Westminster dare so blatantly override the “democratic” mandate that it did not believe would occur. Instead legal challenges, including judicial reviews will be used to circumvent the result. At present, there are seven legal actions lodged. “The lead case for the legal challenge,” according to The New European, “will be that brought by an investment manager and philanthropist, Gina Miller 51, who lives in London. Her claim is being co-ordinated by the law firm Mishcon de Reya. Other cases involve French expatriates and one from a Polish national.”7 Many of the individuals in these cases currently wish to remain anonymous. However, it is unlikely that the initial batches will succeed, but cases designed to undermine the result will occur again and again until its authority is substantially eroded.

Steve – This sounds correct. The struggle between different social classes over the EU is set to continue. So we need to work out an independent working class line.

Murdo – The Referendum debate was side-tracked away from a discussion about the nature of the European Union as an institution, European integration or the most appropriate ways this could be achieved. Because the left does not see its purpose as pursuing governmental power for the working class by political means, it becomes fixated on social issues that disable it from challenging for power. This is true for this social layer of so-called “meritocrats.”

Steve – I agree with this. We needed to discussion the long term strategic issue about the EU. The RSA did do that and took no position on how to vote. But how to vote was the immediate mobilising issue and this took place around the alleged social benefits or losses from exit or remain. Questions of politics and constitution were hardly raised by Remainers. But “take control” and parliamentary sovereignty were central to exit.

Murdo – This produced a debate that supposedly centred on immigration. It was a false debate because it failed to outline the real issues about migration either. It seems bizarre to fight to remain in the EU on behalf of migrants when many are only in the host countries because of the economic failures of the EU. Most importantly, it ignore that one of the main conditions of membership of the EU is to “privilege” migrants from EU countries at the expense of those from non-EU countries who feel the pressures more acutely. One Ghanaian nurse explained why she was voting to Leave, “otherwise all the Eastern Europeans will take away the jobs that Africans can do, making it more difficult for Ghanaians who want to work in the UK.”8 The issue of migration is complex and requires a more developed understanding or it will simply play on liberal guilt that always manages to ignore the most disadvantaged to address the concerns of those with the loudest voices.

Steve – I don’t think the right to free movement is just for migrants anymore than the right to free speech is just for politicians. It is a right for all workers. In the UK you can move freely around from Lancashire to Yorkshire, between Scotland and England without a passport. You can’t do that in China. You can move freely around the 27 EU countries but you cannot move freely to US, China or India.

If we leave the EU we will still not be able to move freely to US, China or India but now we can no longer go freely to France or Italy or the other 25. I cannot see that is progress. It is like saying some workers have got good pensions and others no pension and so taking away the good pensions will make us all equal. You may say it is unfair that I can move freely to France but not to India. But the answer is not a race to the bottom.

The competition between Ghanaians and Eastern Europeans is no different to the competition between all workers for each other’s jobs. Some Ghanaians want to keep out Eastern Europeans and vice versa. As socialists we don’t support competition between workers or barriers and protection for one group against another.

Murdo – This campaign saw the murder of one Member of Parliament by a lone individual who used racist arguments to justify himself. He was universally condemned. There are claims that there have been increases in racist/ anti-migrant/ and anti-Muslim incidents. However, because of the nature of the way these are channelled by self-interested groups and individuals it is hard to establish if they are wholly accurate. As one writer who believes there has been an increase in such incidents puts it, “Every fortnight the Institute of Race Relations publishes a round –up of racist incidents and far right activity. Many of the stories – verbal abuse on public transport, vandalism of religious memorial or places of worship, poorly attended protests by extremist groups – are culled from the local press. They’re not usually considered important enough to merit national attention. … Now they are.”9 These are hardly the most reliable methods of gauging if an increase in racist activity has occurred.

Unfortunately, there seems a desperate desire to claim an enormous social disaster has occurred. Your Open Letter is yet another example of this phenomenon. Some time ago you were claiming that the outcome of a vote to Leave would be a Carnival of Reaction. This is a term used by James Connolly to describe the likely outcome of the partition or Ireland. This term describes more than the setback of another right-wing government coming to office. It describes a time when workers are driven from their jobs, families burned out of their homes and many other atrocities such as occurred during the Independence war. It could also describe much of Europe as fascism grew in power during the twenties and thirties. But, perhaps the most important feature of a Carnival of Reaction is the way supposedly “neutral” government authorities encourage or, at the very least, stand aloof from such actions. No such situation exists at this time. Indeed we have a ridiculous Tory government that has no idea how to extricate itself from the EU or why it is even there. There is little difference between it and its immediate predecessor.

Steve – I think ‘Carnival of Reaction’ is open to misinterpretation as an example of fear tactics. I agree exit is ‘Reaction’ perhaps a ‘Dance of Reaction’ or a ‘Small celebration of Reaction’ rather than a full blown Carnival. But too much dancing and celebrating will become a full blown Carnival.

Murdo – It is to your credit that you are concerned about migrant workers. Their situation is complicated. There is a case for obtaining greater migrant rights. But as you know this is a country where no subject has any rights stronger than existing statutory law and custom and practice. Migrant rights need to be approached from a republican perspective with some form of constitutional rights complementing statutory rights. However, migrant rights should not be used as a reason for remaining in the EU.

Steve – Of course we must defend migrant workers but not on the basis of special rights for migrants. Migrant rights are rights for all workers. All workers want to be free to move, live and work without discrimination and oppression.

Murdo – If you believe in migrant rights, then fight for migrant rights. If you believe in greater mobility of labour, then fight for more mobility of labour. If you want more international student exchanges then fight for more student exchanges. But do not use guilt about migrants as means to stay in a corrupt, ever more militaristic, capitalist institution that only addresses the needs of a European elite. By taking attention away from the nature of this institution you have not increased the popular consciousness about its true nature. Indeed you have painted it as less harmful than it really is, especially in producing waves of desperate people who have no other choice than to uproot themselves to find work in other countries.

Steve – This is a criticism of what Allan wrote.

Murdo – The reasons for a drastically different vote in Northern Ireland and Scotland have little to do with the rise of a greater civic consciousness. In Northern Ireland the issue of the border began to dissolve as various types of economic convergence occurred. That is no longer possible. The border has become an issue yet again. Interestingly, the same is also true for Gibraltar and UK-Spanish relations. Scotland is experiencing a period of nationalist hegemony that may last a generation. The demand of the SNP that people vote to Remain carried enormous weight. Nichola Sturgeon’s greatest fear is that she has to lead a campaign for an independent Scotland to join the already discredited EU with its aquis communautaire of compulsory obligations to join the Euro and adopt Schengen border controls and much else. This is why she is hoping to continue existing EU membership. It is a strategy that will most likely fail.

Steve – I do not think that you have recognised the impact that political struggle in Ireland and Scotland, alongside economic transformations, have had on political consciousness and attitudes and how this translates in the EU referendum. The most European parts of the UK are Scotland, Northern Ireland and London. In this we can see economic and political factors at work.

Murdo – The chance to break with one component of capitalism’s entangling tentacles occurred. And much of the left failed to take the opportunity. At times you want to condemn the “EU bureaucracy” but when the opportunity arose in this once-in-lifetime Referendum you chose to keep them in place. If you really do oppose them then you must act. Otherwise, if not now, when?

Steve – Capitalism’s entangling tentacles are not broken and are not broken by leaving the EU. Capitalist economy continues. Perhaps you meant “EU entangling tentacles” which will be damaged or severed. The “EU bureaucracy” has already been condemned not least by the Tory press, Farage etc and this has not helped. EU bureaucracy must be overthrown or replaced, but leaving the EU does neither. The European working class is central to that.

Murdo – By voting to leave the EU, the UK government has collapsed. It demonstrated that popular power can change governments. Farage and Gove are gone, they will be quickly joined by Boris and Theresa May. The Tories will have a succession of leaders like they had between 1997 and 2006. It will not be as easy as they imagine to leave the EU; it is an entangling set of treaties. But it means they can no longer blame Brussels for their own actions. No longer will union officials be able to say to workers that actions are against EU law. The real level of the pound sterling – overvalued for decades- is now establishing itself. The fictitious economic growth figures of EU membership will show themselves as worthless. And much else. It removes part of the international mechanisms that reinforce the modern imperialist state. Discovering the real state of affairs is not reaction unless you’ve bought into the fantasy too.

Steve – I agree it will be a harsh reality check. I agree a whole load of excuses will soon go up in smoke. But this won’t be replaced by the truth. The new harsh realities will be met by a new set of excuses! You could not make it up. But they will!

Thanks Murdo.

Regards Steve.

also see:-

JUNE 24th – THE FUKers’ BLACK FRIDAY OR RED FRIDAY FOR A EUROPEAN DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION?

 

A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/06/10/european-democratic-revolution-a-statement-form-the-republican-socialist-alliance/

 

 

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3 Responses to “IF NOT NOW, WHEN?”

  1. RCN says:

    Also see my comments which form a response to Murdo’s criticisms at the end of http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/07/03/an-open-letter-to-lexiters/

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