Dec 03 2016

WHICH WAY NOW – ‘BREXIT’ OR ‘EX-BRIT’?

Allan Armstrong, of the Campaign for a European Republican Socialist Party, draws some political conclusions from the online discussion (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/11/20/from-farages-brexit-to-trumps-brexit-plus-plus-plus-and-on-to-madame-frexit/)  of the political situation in the UK in the aftermath of the Trump vote. 

 _________

 

WHICH WAY NOW – ‘BREXIT’ OR ‘EX-BRIT’? 

a) Brexit and the change in British ruling class thinking

Since the Brexit vote, the Tories, under Theresa May’s leadership, have been moving away from the recently shared politics of the majority of the British ruling class and mainstream British political parties. A central feature of these politics was based upon the globalised neo-liberal economics pushed by Margaret Thatcher, in the interests of a turbo-charged City of London. The City had really taken off after Nigel Lawson’s ‘Big Bang’ deregulation in 1983. Following New Labour’s 1996 election victory, they adopted the same unquestioning pro-City path. This was shown when Chancellor Gordon Brown abolished the few remaining government controls over the City’s operations. Under Tony Blair, Butskellism gave way to Blatcherism.

Thatcher’s neo-liberalism enjoyed the early support of the US, after Ronald Reagan became president in 1980. In 2003, Blair was also to give his full support to Bush over the Iraq War, which was fought to impose US corporate interests in the Middle East, and to ensure the exclusion of potential imperial rivals.

Back in 1973, a somewhat reluctant British ruling class had already been compelled to support the UK joining the EEC. Their post-war imperialist dreams for a reconstructed Britain, associated with a suitably reformed British Commonwealth, proved to be nothing more than that. Since its foundation in 1956, the EEC had been marked by social market politics, backed by both Christian Democrats and Social Democrats. These were not too different from the Butskellite politics shared by the Conservatives and Labour in the UK at the time.

After Thatcher’s 1979 election victory, the British ruling class, backed by the US, continued to give the EEC (later to become the EU), its support. However, this was now done to undermine the EU’s social market legacy. Neo-liberalism was the new game in town. The UK acted as a Trojan horse for wider (particularly US-based), global capital, hoping that British business could get some sub-contracted deals, as happened after the Iraq War. The US and UK states had backed the IMF’s Structural Adjustment Programme (the precursor of today’s Austerity Programmes imposed within the UK and EU). These were designed to force open the ‘Third World’ to predatory global corporations through one-sided ‘free’ trade deals, the ending of state regulation and subsidies, all leading to privatisation. The UK also acted as a spoiler to prevent a more united Europe, and hence a new imperial challenger to the USA from emerging.

Despite this pressure, the EU only moved slowly from its social market politics. However, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty marked the beginning of a transition in the EU, with a new neo-liberal constitution, albeit with a social liberal sugar-coating in its Social Chapter provisions. And, even as late as 2003, the central EU powers refused to follow gung-ho US, and its UK ally, in their war with Iraq.

However, the impact of the 2008 Crash accelerated the EU’s drive towards a fuller neo-liberalism. In line with this thinking, Angela Merkel’s CDU/SPD German coalition was able to convince other EU leaders of the necessity to impose draconian austerity measures upon the people of Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Finding its eastern borders destabilised by the US’s increasingly strident anti-Russia policy, the EU got sucked into a more active NATO stance. Germany, previously content to rely mainly on its formidable economic muscle to gain influence in the former Warsaw Pact countries and ex-Yugloslavia, found that the military initiative in this area belonged to a US quite prepared to back Right populist and neo-fascist forces, with all the destabilising consequences that flowed from this.

The difference of approach was highlighted in Ukraine in 2014. Germany tried to use its economic power to push Ukraine into closer dependence on the EU. The US, though, quite blatantly resorted to backing for Ukrainian neo-fascists to push the originally more widely supported Maidan revolt into ethnic nationalist channels. Their priority was to step up the pressure on Vladimir Putin, something Germany, partly dependent on Russian gas, was less keen on. Putin retaliated to the pressure by backing a Red-Brown alliance of White and Orthodox Russian  reactionaries and old-style Stalinists – both imbued with Great Russian chauvinism. They  precipitated the breakaway of Crimea and two eastern Ukrainian provinces (1). Thus, it became even clearer that, with tensions rising in Eastern Europe, it was the US that really called the shots there. This was helped, of course, by both the US and UK’s long-term opposition to the EU developing any independent European military force as an alternative to NATO. The UK government took a predictably pro-US line, and has since welcomed the opportunity to send British soldiers to and expand arms sales in Eastern Europe.

However, these longer standing differences between the UK and EU over foreign policy have been less significant, for the growing British ruling class change in attitude to the EU, than the effect of the prolonged post-2008 crisis. It had become clear that the various Social Chapter and other opt-outs, which were meant to give British firms a competitive advantage in the EU, were not having this effect. The economic policy differences between the UK and EU were now becoming narrower, with the EU imposing austerity too, particularly drastically upon its peripheral member countries. Furthermore, the UK government and British banks (especially the Royal and Bank of Scotland) also put great pressure on Ireland, by enforcing stepped-up mortgage debt payments and evictions. Ireland enjoyed the ‘privilege’ of being done over by both the EU and the UK. And, not to be outdone in the political pressure stakes, it was the UK’s Gordon Brown who declared Iceland to be a “terrorist state”, when it refused to pay the Icelandic banksters’ private debts to British banks.

Following the events of the 2008 Crash, what was originally a minority view amongst the British ruling class – going for an alternative non-EU road – has been given wider consideration. This would mean even more dependence on the UK’s old imperial ally, the USA, and/or upon that rising new imperial behemoth – China.  Such a two-track approach is likely to lead to new tensions in the future, as US/China rivalry hots up. Now that a Brexit vote has been won, new convert and Tory Chancellor, Philip Hammond has diluted George Osborne’s previous strict neo-liberal austerity approach. Hammond abandoned Osborne’s spending cuts targets and has plans for greater investment in infrastructure to stimulate the economy.

The second element of shared Labour, Lib-Dem and Conservative politics was only clearly established after David Cameron became Conservative leader in 2005. This was social liberalism (e.g. with regard to women and gays) and represented the abandonment of Thatcher’s earlier neo-conservative social policies. Social liberalism, though, is now also being questioned by sections of the Tory Right and UKIP. They are looking for the return of neo-conservative values, as part of their reactionary desire to turn back the clock to the period when ethic minorities, women, gays and others knew their place. The prominent position that will be given to neo-conservatives in the new US administration, following Donald Trump’s presidential victory, will give a new lease of life to some of these socially reactionary forces in the UK too – although the Christian supremacism, which backs social conservatism there, is still much weaker here.

The third feature, of what became shared Conservative, New Labour (and Lib-Dem) politics in the 1990s, which the rest of this article will concentrate upon, has been a ‘New Unionist’ constitutional strategy. This has been accompanied by a redefinition of ‘Britishness’ to give greater recognition to its hybrid Scottish, Welsh and, more trickily, to its ‘Ulster’/Northern Irish components (2). ‘New Unionism’ was developed the better to defend a UK state that, from the late 1960s, and again from the 1980s, had faced mounting national democratic challenges in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. To counter this more effectively, a liberal unionist, or ‘New Unionist’, strategy was first tentatively put forward in 1992, with the Downing Street Agreement (3). John Major’s Conservative government started the Peace (more accurately pacification) Process, with its promise of a resurrected, but reformed Stormont. However, ‘New Unionism’ was only given a more secure and extended all-islands form, under Blair, with ‘Devolution-all-round’ for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1998 (4). Significantly, the US and EU also guaranteed this deal. The EU’s role in legally entrenching these Devolution deals, particularly in Northern Ireland, could cause problems for Brexiters.

Scotland and Wales were now constitutionally recognised as nations, whilst some ‘New Unionists’ had hoped to create a new nation in Northern Ireland (5). This is designed to replace any lingering support for a united Ireland, and end the supremacism and exclusiveness of ‘Ulster’-Britishness. What did not change, though, was the subordinate role given to each nation or would-be nation within the unionist set up; and the continuation of all the anti-democratic features of the UK state. These reinforced the position of old-style conservative and reactionary unionists, who held quite different ideas of what constituted ‘Britishness’, and about who was to be included or excluded. Thus, knowing that the DUP still remained the frontline defenders of Union in Northern Ireland, whose services might be called on by the UK state whenever necessary,  gave the reactionary unionists in Northern Ireland confidence. They even successfully challenged and saw off the official US envoy, Richard Haas (6), brought in by the UK government, when he tried to mediate in 2013, after Loyalists tried to overthrow the Good Friday Agreement by initiating the Flag Riots (7).

Nevertheless,  the official liberal unionist approach was still being pursued in Wales as recently as 2011. Cameron’s Conservative government extended the powers of the Welsh Assembly after a referendum there. But the impetus for further liberal unionist reform ended when the same UK government found it had lost the political initiative in the constitutional arena. This had passed to the SNP, when it won an outright majority in the 2011 Holyrood election, with a commitment to seek a Scottish independence referendum. The British ruling class and the unionist parties retreated and fell back into conservative unionist mode. This shift became more marked as support for Scottish independence rose, producing panic in British ruling class circles in the last stages of the referendum campaign.

Despite the Conservative/Labour/Lib-Dem ‘Better Together’s ‘No’ victory in 2014, this still failed to prevent the further rise of the SNP. They went on to win a 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats in the 2015 General Election (8). This has produced new tensions accentuated by Labour’s attempted move to the Left under Jeremy Corbyn, and the Tories actual move to the Right under May. The division amongst these two previously collaborating unionist forces (under Cameron and Miliband) has also allowed a new reactionary unionism to emerge from the political margins. Previously it had been mainly confined to Northern Ireland (9). This has been highlighted by the rise of UKIP, with its ability to force Cameron to fight on their chosen ground – English chauvinism (conceding EVEL for Westminster votes) and opposition to the EU (conceding a referendum).

Cameron’s ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ proved unable to see off the Tory Right and UKIP. The Leavers’ ‘Project Hate’ trumped the ‘Project Fear’ mark 2, which Cameron had first wielded ‘Project Fear’ against the ‘Yes’ campaign’s ‘Project Hope’ in the Scottish independence referendum. Both of the main  ‘Leave’ campaigns were able to ramp up the British chauvinist and racist arguments that the official ‘Remain’ camp itself had resorted to (10). After the 2016 Brexit vote, May emerged as the best placed Tory leader. She was prepared to drop her previous lukewarm ‘Remain’ stance,  fully endorse the shift further Right and push the government even further on to UKIP’s political terrain. These developments have marked the end of any cross-unionist party commitment to liberal constitutional reform. They also showed the government’s greater reliance upon the use of the state’s Crown Powers, heralded by May’s attempt to railroad through Article 50 in defiance of Westminster.

The moves in the UK, away from previously widely shared ruling class politics, have been part of a much wider advance of Right nationalist and populist politics, across the globe. This includes Putin’s Russia, Erdogan’s Turkey, Modi’s BJP ruled India, much of Eastern Europe, a soon to be Trump-led USA, and most recently even the core states of the EU, with the rise of Marine Le Pen and her National Front in France and the Alternative for Germany (11).

Yet, this growing national populism is unlikely to really challenge corporate capital. A new accommodation will probably be reached. Some global corporations will quickly adjust. Indeed, the arms and security industries, in which the UK (in contrast to so many other areas of industrial production) is still a significant player, will welcome the prospect of increased sales resulting from imperialist competition and instability. A commitment to more infrastructure spending will provide a profitable boost for corporations, and reinforce croneyism and corruption as they look to bribe rising national populist politicians.  Other global corporations, benefitting most from the recent neo-liberal global order, may have to accept more national state economic protectionist measures. Their cost can be offset, though, by national state backing for even greater control over their workforces. There will be increasingly differentiated wages, conditions and welfare benefits for particular segments of the labour market. This will be accompanied by even stricter migration management and greater surveillance, supplemented by continued media scapegoating, and when deemed necessary, by official toleration of extra-state vigilante activity, as already happens in Northern Ireland. In 2014 Bernadette McAliskey pointed out that if you want to know what a UKIP (read now Tory Right) government would be like, look at the DUP! (12)

 

 b) Is Theresa May for real over Brexit?

Many liberals and some in the Left scoff at Theresa May, whenever she says, “Brexit means Brexit”. They have highlighted the Tories’ lack of a coherent economic strategy to underpin future UK’s negotiations with the EU leaders. Now the Tories could well make some special deals for particularly favoured groups of capitalists, who may be more badly effected by Brexit, e.g. the City of London and Nissan in Sunderland. May openly advertises her wish to get bespoke deals from the EU. Brexiteers, including Nigel Farage, are unlikely to oppose such concessions. It is migrant workers they want exposed to a hard Brexit. This also goes along with their attacks on workers’ pay, conditions, welfare and environmental protection, euphemistically termed “red tape”.

There will be a very soft Brexit for bankers and the rich. At a possible small (for them) financial cost, the non-British rich will retain their freedom to move to the UK and to buy up property, forcing up prices and rents. They will continue with their lavish lifestyles in total contempt for any ‘lower classes’ who may cross their path. Being a murderous dictator or a major criminal will be no barrier if you are rich enough, and you can get the necessary political backing. And there appear to be plenty of Westminster MPs and lords who can be bought.

May is serious, though, about ending the UK’s political participation in the EU. Spurred on by the new possibilities given by the rise of Right national populism, she wants to reinforce the ideology of ‘Britishness’. She hopes to convince the majority of the British ruling class of the benefits of this strategy in providing political cover, through divide-and-rule tactics, for the draconian economic policies they want to enforce. These will be necessary to maintain the British ruling class in the privileged manner to which they have become accustomed, and also the UK state’s position in an unpredictable and crisis-ridden world. The success of UKIP and Trump in winning over many disaffected, marginalised and, in particular, white male working class voters, emphasises the ability of Right national populism to get support for economic policies which conflict with workers’ own interests. Upon May’s Tory ‘coronation’, she even tried this out herself, with an appeal to the ‘ working class’, a phrase that had long disappeared in the lexicon of New Labour and its ‘One Nation’ (read one state) successor.

Given the lack of support for Brexit-style national populism amongst many liberals, Scottish and Welsh nationalists and socialists, May and other Brexiteers will have to fall back upon the reactionary features of the UK set-up, with its associated ‘Ulster’-British, Scottish-British and Welsh-British components, to achieve their aims. One consequence of this is that politics will become more volatile and acrimonious as the British government and UK state increasingly resort to the Crown Powers or, perhaps later, give a nod and a wink to the street activities of further Right forces. Support for the anti-democratic powers of the UK state will be stepped up with even more emphasis on ‘Britishness’. Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government is still behaving as if there are significant numbers of liberal unionists in Westminster willing to facilitate IndyRef2. She will soon find that May’s further Right Tory government is less accommodating than Cameron’s. And he only conceded IndyRef 1, because he thought the SNP would be trounced.

Back in 2005, Gordon Brown had already gone so far as stating, “We should celebrate our {imperial} past rather than be apologising for it” (13). In 2008 he was planning new citizenship tests for immigrants to prove their support for “British values”. Whilst Brown wanted to brush the unsavoury aspects of British imperialism and certain “British values” under the carpet, the populist Right is less squeamish. To put the ‘Great’ back into their ‘Britain’, a far more strident British chauvinism and racism will be promoted. Their ‘Britishness’ will not be confined to English nationalism (although this will figure), but will extend to those who still consider themselves to be Scottish-British, Welsh-British and the ‘Ulster’-British. Each of these forms of ‘Britishness’ is able to draw sustenance from particular reactionary features of the UK’s monarchist, imperialist, unionist and established Protestant constitution, without dependence on English nationalism.

Therefore, for the Left to make any real progress, it will have to go far beyond knee jerk anti-Toryism, and take a serious look at the nature of the UK state. This also means jettisoning any continued defence of state and unionist promoted ‘Britishness’ – including its Left forms. The most effective counter to the reactionary politics of the unionists and of the Brexiteers is to adopt an ‘Ex-Brit’ strategy. An ‘Ex-Brit’ strategy, though, needs to be conducted, not on narrow nationalist grounds, but as part of a wider strategy based on ‘internationalism from below’. The Right’s ‘Britishness’, which we currently confront, is opposed to the national self-determination of the nations within the UK and these islands. It is also opposed, not only to the inter-ruling class bureaucratic unity found in the EU, but even more so, to any broader democratic European unity. This is why non-UK EU workers have emerged as a prime target for their attacks. To counter this, we need to campaign for a federated, social, secular European republic.

In such a campaign, the defence of the current legal status of 2.9 million non-UK EU migrant workers and their families, as well as support for those already more marginal non-EU asylum seekers and economic migrants (often working illegally in super-exploited conditions) must play a major part. Otherwise, the British ruling class will be able to get away with its attempt to widen the differences in pay, conditions and welfare rights (or lack of them), and its promotion of a three tier workforce, driving most workers further down in the process.

More positively, recent migrant workers, whatever their current legal status, already represent the transnational core of a new wider working class in Europe (14). Together, we can up the baton of European unity, which is being abandoned, not only by the Right nationalist populists, but by an EU leadership, concerned only to defend the narrow interests of corporate capital, something particularly evident following the 2008 Crash.

 

 c) The British Left and its history of defending the British Union

Both the 2014 Scottish independence and 2016 EU referenda have placed a sharp spotlight on the politics of the British Left. The first referendum raised the issue of democratic national self-determination (15). This had long been a problem for the leadership of the Labour Party in relation to both the British Empire and the British Union. Furthermore, although themselves not always consistently anti-imperialist in relation to the British Empire, a large proportion of the British Left (that is those on the Labour Left, the old CPGB and non-official Marxist-Leninists, like the Trotskyists, Maoists, and post-Stalin Stalinists) were even more vehemently opposed to those challenging the British Union. They have seen the UK state as progressive and a real historical gain for the British working class.

It took the democratic struggle for self-determination in Ireland, immediately after the First World War, for most on the British Left to abandon their earlier all-UK (which, before 1922, included Ireland) version of a ‘British road to socialism’. This had originally been part of the politics of the Social Democratic Federation (later British Socialist Party), the Independent Labour Party, and the British Labour Party. The infant CPGB, born during  the war for Irish self-determination (itself a significant component of the 1916-21/3 International Revolutionary Wave), accepted the new geographically attenuated ‘British road’ (albeit with wobbles over Northern Ireland during the Second World War). They passed on this modified ‘British road to socialism’ strategy to most Trotskyists, Maoists and post-Stalin Stalinists too, although characteristically each sect adopted its own particular road.

However, whenever the issue of anti-unionism and the demand for greater self-determination was raised in Scotland, the British Left fell back on its various all-British socialist paths, each with their own route map, often involving prolonged rests under British unionist road lamps. To deal with the new challenge of Scottish self-determination, the CPGB, back in its early Popular Frontist days in the 1930s, became an advocate of liberal constitutional reform for the UK, or Home Rule. Others from a Trotskyist background, such as Militant, were only pushed into supporting Scottish Devolution (as Home Rule became named) when the STUC and the Labour Party took up this policy in the 1970s, and the Tories were seen to be opposed to it.

But, as late as 1979, the SWP majority was still shouting loudly from the comforting  position provided under its particular British road lamp, and arguing for ‘Revolution not Devolution’. This was in opposition to its leader, Tony Cliff, who looked  towards a possible more immediate light coming from the next British road lamp along the road – liberal unionist devolution. He based his own support for Scottish devolution almost entirely on anti-Toryism. Thatcher was on the ascendant amongst the the Tories. The SWP majority, though, was successful in its own small contribution to to seeing off Devolution, but instead of Revolution they got Thatcher. Her particular section of the British road provided very little light! As more recent events have shown, ill thought-out anti-Toryism has continued to provide the basis for much of the SWP’s immediate politics – and for the programmeless SWP, there is nothing more pressing than the immediate!

By the time of New Labour’s 1997 Devolution referenda, though, the majority of the British Left fell in behind support for the liberal ‘New Unionist’ reform of the UK constitution, especially political devolution for Scotland. It very much helped the British Left when this was strongly opposed by both the conservative and reactionary unionists found in the Tories and on the far Right; and that the forces contesting the SNP’s tame constitutional nationalist approach with a socialist republican internationalist strategy in the new-formed Scottish Socialist Alliance (SSA) were very small.

Some of those, who had previously been on the British Left (e.g. Militant), were already passing out of the British unionist camp in Scotland. Scottish Militant had helped to form the SSA in 1996, which became the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) in 1998. The SSP went on to include what became an increasingly Left Scottish nationalist majority, prepared to tail-end the SNP’s constitutional proposals; and a republican internationalist minority, pushing for an independent republican approach to the constitution. A declining Left British nationalist rump, of which the SWP was the largest component, was still to be found though. But their change of line to supporting Scottish independence was predictable (16), since the SWP never likes to be far way from where they see the immediate action to be.

The newfound political stability of the post-1998 ‘New Unionist’ settlement proved to be relatively short lived in Scotland. The demand for considerably greater Scottish self-determination, including various forms of political independence, began to grow. As a result, the now official state-backed liberal unionism became the new conservative unionism, resisting any further change, which it did not initiate or control.

Anti-Tory politics still determined SWP thinking. As long as the SNP was seen to be splitting the Labour vote, the SWP continued to adhere to their anti-Scottish independence line. It was only after the Tories returned to office in 2010 that the SWP finally came out for Scottish independence a year later (17). Some new anti-austerity, anti-imperialist, and even the odd anti-unionist arguments were added to their traditional anti-Toryism, which remained central to their arguments .

Indeed, only the CPB (the considerably smaller successor to the old CPGB), and some equally time-trapped Trotskyists in the new Left Unity Party, came out, alongside a much diminished Labour Left, in favour of a ‘No’ vote (18). They thought that Scotland was still living in 1975. They also harked back to the ‘Spirit of 45’, which the Tories and New Labour had done so much to undermine. As the Red Paper Collective, they attempted to defend the Union from the Left, predictably without any impact on the Right and Centre unionists, who actually ran the main unionist roadshow.  George ‘Just Say Naw’ Galloway was also there selling his own promotion (19).

Interestingly, neither the ‘Yes’ supporting Committee for a Workers International (CWI), to which the  Socialist Party of England and Wales is the main affiliate, nor the International Socialist Tendency’s (IST), to which the SWP (it remains an all-Britain organisation) is the main affiliate, showed much interest in the issue of Scottish self-determination in England, Wales or Ireland. This was left by the CWI to the autonomous Socialist Party Scotland, and in the SWP to its members living in Scotland. The CWI and IST took no part in significant wider solidarity campaigning in England, Wales or Ireland (where both the CWI and IST have groups with greater political influence than their affiliates on this side of the Celtic Sea). They thought that the issue of Scottish self-determination was mainly of interest to Scotland, so their own underlying ‘Britishness’ was not really questioned or unduly disturbed. They paid little attention to the growing political crisis in the wider UK, which increasingly reflected itself in the activities of a concerned UK state and the mainstream unionist parties. Scotland became a central concern of the conservative unionists in the Conservative, Lib-Dem and Labour Parties and of the reactionary unionists in UKIP and the DUP, particularly in the 2015 Westminster general election.

Following the defeat of the ‘Yes’ campaign in 2014, the issue of Scottish self-determination still had a major impact on the 2015 election (20). The SP, SPS and SWP stood candidates as part of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), but they said virtually nothing about Scotland, outside of Scotland. Yet Cameron won the election because he successfully played the anti-Scottish card. The political fall-out from his ‘success’ was considerable. Cameron was now trapped into placating the harder unionists on the Tory Right and in UKIP, forcing him to concede an EU referendum. The SNP also won their unprecedented Westminster electoral victory.

It was the example of the SNP, successfully fighting an election challenging austerity (on paper), which finally led to the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, and the belated appearance of more significant Left anti-establishment forces in England. These had been apparent in Ireland and Scotland, and to a much greater extent, in the Greek and Spanish states (especially Catalunya), for some time. Having failed to appreciate the wider UK consequences of recent political developments in Scotland, the TUSC project looks as if it could dissolve in Corbyn’s Labour’s Left unionist melting pot. Where that will leave its remaining Scottish members is a moot point.

The continued dominant all-British perspective of the SWP and SP meant that it was less surprising that they came out in favour of voting to leave the EU. The majority of the CPB joined them in this, along with some on the Labour Left and Right, and unionist populists like George Galloway (ex- but still wannabe Labour) and Kate Hoey (Labour MP, Countryside Alliance and Ulster Unionist supporter). They argued that the EU was the source of nearly all evils (greatly exaggerated); that it coerced British governments into imposing regressive economic policies (it didn’t need to – New Labour and the Con-Dem governments were the most ardent advocates of such policies), and that Cameron’s Tories and the majority of the Labour Right supported continued EU membership (this was true).

The SWP joined with the CPB to form a Lexit (Left Exit) campaign (21). There were very definite shades of their 1979 ‘Revolution not Devolution’ stance about this. Then, instead of Revolution, they got Thatcher. Now, instead of Lexit and a major defeat for the Tories, we have Boris Johnson, David Davies, Liam Fox and, of course, Brexit convert, Theresa May. Her earlier anti-migrant attacks as Home Secretary were notorious. The programmeless SWP have short memories though. So, their British head office has given permission for its Scottish members to support InyRef2 because of the ‘Remain’ vote in Scotland, which they opposed! Much more important for the SWP though, since it pursues an all-Britain (or should that be all-British) project, is their new front organisation, Stand Up To Racism (SUTR). This is designed to win recruits from Labour’s Corbynista intake, which is why it was so important he was there at its launch on October 8th. Funnily enough, there has been no political explanation for the new situation, with its increased open racism,  which makes the SUTR so necessary – nothing to do with Brexit though!

It is unlikely that the SUTR will see any link between rising racism and British chauvinism, the new political needs of the British ruling class, and their ability to draw on all the anti-democratic aspects of the UK imperialist and unionist state, when promoting their changing ideas of ‘Britishness’.  Internal attacks on Irish and Scottish Gaels in the early UK state provided early practice in the much wider racism associated with the British Empire. Nostalgically looking back to the relatively recent past, SUTR will celebrate British official multiculturalism – ‘racism – it’s just not British’! This harks back to the days of the Anti-Nazi League, which held to a tacit ‘Nazism – its just not British’ line, whilst ignoring the much more rampant British fascism of the Loyalists in Northern Ireland and parts of Britain at the time.

The official multiculturalism and extended idea of ‘Britishness’, which was developed in the 1970s and early ’80s, was mainly a concession forced by Asian and West Indian migrants from the ex-British colonies, following significant anti-racist struggles (22). For the UK state, though, multi-culturalism was conditional upon any new migration from these places being drastically curtailed. Since then, the pattern of inward migration has significantly changed, with the majority coming from the EU.  The willingness of the Tories and many on the Labour Right to accept these new migrants as potentially British is no longer there. This was shown when non-UK EU migrants living in the UK were excluded from the EU referendum franchise, although Cypriots, Maltese  as good ex-colonial British, and Gibraltarians as overseas subjects, were given the vote (probably coupled to a cold calculation that their number is fairly small).   This exclusive ‘Britishness’ is in contrast to the civic nation open to those who choose to make their home in Scotland, which was invoked in the Scottish independence referendum campaign.

If the SWP are in denial between the rise of racism and Brexit, they no doubt noticed the death of Labour MP, Jo Cox, supporter of Syrian asylum speakers, by an obsessed lone fascist claiming to support ‘Britain First’. Or maybe it was the murder of Arkadiusz Jozwik for speaking, Polish, not English, on the streets of Harlow (23). So far these have been the most tragic consequences of the Brexit campaign and the post-Brexit vote spike in hate crime. But, when even the Right wing LeaveEU has called off its planned demonstration outside the Supreme Court for December 5th, fearing it could be hijacked by British fascists (24) it should be evident to all on the Left, the political direction being taken of the hardest Brexiters.

Mercifully, there is no sign of the SWP stepping into the breach to take lead of the unofficial Brexit movement. But wait, there are still some on the Left who see the Brexit vote as a great working class victory (except, of course, in ‘politically backward’ London, republican Northern Ireland and Scotland). The Socialist Party was still claiming in October that, “Three months ago the Tories and British capitalism suffered a massive defeat”! (25) Furthermore, in this article, the SP also drew upon the comparison loved by the liberal unionists between the campaign for Scottish independence and the campaign for Brexit (26).

Most of us missed the formation of a TUSC-led British Provisional Government, or even Corbyn becoming leader of a new Labour government! Ironically, the headline of this particular SP article is “Fight Tory racism with socialist policies for EU exit”. Ah, so those Tories are still in power, whilst British capitalism seems more concerned about repositioning and rebranding itself in the new political situation, than feeling it has suffered any “massive defeat”. Leading Brexiteer, Nigel Lawson and ex-Tory Chancellor has claimed that, “Brexit will complete Thatcher’s revolution”! (27)

Furthermore, racism and national chauvinism are not confined to the Tories. Take a closer look at all those Labour MPs and their voting record over the 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. But then opposition to these policies was hardly central to the SP or SWP (and does not figure in the pieces posted on the SUTR blog). And neither of these organisations did much to oppose the exclusion of non-UK EU residents, or 16-18 year olds from the EU referendum. Their inclusion could well have led to a different result. Clearly the precedent set in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum had not impinged on these organisations leaders’ British sensibilities.

Of course, the SWP and SP were somewhat uneasy about the anti-migrant propaganda coming from the Brexit campaigns. But they argued that this was mainly the responsibility of the official Remain campaign – and, of course, New Labour and the Conservatives had indeed prepared the ground with earlier legislation and propaganda, which allowed the Brexiters’ more public and virulent ‘Project Hate’ to emerge and triumph.

Where the Left Leavers felt more on common ground with the Brexiters was over the ‘issue’ of ‘British’ self-determination. As a result, they and others on the British Left were, in effect, pulled into the Right slipstream of “Give us back our country” and “Take back control”. Yet “our country” is the UK (or Great Britain), and the “us”, who are in “control”, is the British ruling class. The imperialist, unionist and monarchist UK is their state. Although lesser mortals in the mainstream unionist parties have long been extended an invitation to join the Westminster gravy train if they serve its interests.

To counter the Right during the Brexit campaign, British Left groups returned to their own older ‘British roads to socialism’.  Now, after the vote, they hope to take us along a (temporary?) British Left Labour-led, neo-Keynesian detour from their preferred road. However, Corbyn’s ignominious capitulation on November 30th, over the Westminster vote to condemn Blair’s Iraq war crime record, shows that the British Establishment has already erected their first barricades on this particular road. Labour, Right, Left and Centre are prepared to take up the most forward posts to prevent any real challenge to the UK state, the British ruling class and its leading representatives.

Those on the British Left, who believe that by tail-ending the Right’s national road they can help the working class, only weaken us. What we need as an international strategy to counter the official Remainers and the Brexiters, who are divided over the best way to prevent a new European working class from emerging. Just as all those ruling class promises of peace and security, ‘guaranteed’ by trade deals and peace treaties, have always proved hollow; so those competing British Left’s organisations sect-Internationals, such as the CWI and IST, only provide window dressing for various ‘national roads to socialism’.  History has shown that these, can only, in the last instance, give succour to various national ruling, or would-be, ruling classes.

Hopefully, seeing the increasingly Right wing trajectory such politics leads to, will persuade more on the Left to abandon their remaining notions of ‘Britishness’ and their apologies for Brexit. This requires an ‘Ex-Brit’ politics which can join first with non-UK workers and work-seekers in the UK, and also with socialists elsewhere in the EU. To do this we need a campaign for a new internationalism, which sees a federated, social, secular European republic (28) as the best road towards a truly global commune.

 

References

1)   http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/07/26/past-and-present-imperialisms-pitin-the-war-in-ukraine-and-the-far-right/

2)  http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/03/02/britishness-the-uk-state-unionism-scotland-and-the-national-outsider/

3)  New Unionism and the Communities of Resistance, A Republican Worker pamphlet, Allan Armstrong, 1994

4) New Labour Fleshes Out s ‘New Unionism’ with its ‘Devolution-all-round Proposals, part xii, http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/10/03/the-making-and-the-breaking-of-the-uk-state/

5) The creation of new ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ after the Good Friday Agreement, section 2, part 8, http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/03/02/britishness-the-uk-state-unionism-scotland-and-the-national-outsider/

6) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/09/26/haass-talks-the-illusion-of-a-progressive-role-for-imperialism/

7) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/12/13/belfast-flag-riots/ and Jim Slaven at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/01/10/the-belfast-flag-riots-and-the-scottish-dimension/

8) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/16/the-left-in-the-uk-the-2015-general-election-campaign-and-the-wider-impact-of-scotlands-democratic-revolution/

9) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/09/12/better-together-ukip-the-orange-order-and-the-uk-state-what-they-have-in-common/

10) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/07/04/june-24th-black-friday-or-red-friday/

11) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/11/20/from-farages-brexit-to-trumps-brexit-plus-plus-plus-and-on-to-madame-frexit/

12) Bernadette McAliskey said this at the ‘London Says Yes’ rally on September 6th, 2014 http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/09/10/to-scotland-with-love-a-report-from-the-london-says-yes-rally-on-september-6th/

13) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-334208/Its-time-celebrate-Empire-says-Brown.html

14) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/10/18/the-reality-of-the-european-democratic-revolution/

15) Allan Armstrong, 2. A Socialist Strategy for the Scottish Democratic Movement and 4. Some Proposals for Socialists working in the Scottish Democratic movement at:-http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/03/26/scottish-independence-referendum/

16) Allan Armstrong, 1i) Book publication produces political storm at:- http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2003/08/03/beyond-broadswords-and-bayonets-2/

17) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2013/03/30/riding-two-horses-at-once-the-swp-and-scottish-independence/

18) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2012/10/08/scottish-self-determination-and-the-actually-existing-labour-movement-2/ and http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/06/24/labour-and-the-far-left-unionism-and-the-scottish-independence-debate/

19) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/02/11/just-say-naw-to-galloways-sectarian-british-unionism/

20) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/03/16/the-left-in-the-uk-the-2015-general-election-campaign-and-the-wider-impact-of-scotlands-democratic-revolution/

21) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/07/03/an-open-letter-to-lexiters

22)  The UK State and ‘Britishness’, Part A section 3, http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/03/02/britishness-the-uk-state-unionism-scotland-and-the-national-outsider/

23) https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/aug/30/five-teenage-boys-arrested-after-man-dies-following-attack-in-essex

24) http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/pro-brexit-march-supreme-court-led-by-nigel-farage-postponed-1593471

25) http://socialistpartyscotland.org.uk/2016/10/13/tory-racism-must-fought-socialist-policies-eu-exit/

26) For a reply to this sort of thinking, see http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/04/12/a-political-comparison-between-the-2012-14-scottish-independence-referendum-and-the-2016-eu-referendum-campaign/

27) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/23/brexit-will-complete-margaret-thatchers-economic-revolution/

28) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/10/20/report-of-meeting-to-set-up-the-campaign-for-a-european-republican-socialist-party/ and http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/06/10/european-democratic-revolution-a-statement-form-the-republican-socialist-alliance/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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