Below is a synopsis of Allan Armstrong’s new pamphlet The Continuing Shift to the Right in the Transition from Neo-Liberalism to Right Populism
This is followed by the last two chapters (relettered) which deal with the impact of Right Populism since the Brexit vote,
THE CONTINUING SHIFT TO THE RIGHT
IN THE TRANSITION FROM
NEO-LIBERALISM TO RIGHT POPULISM
Allan Armstrong presents a case that the world is leaving the period of Neo-liberal domination and entering a period of Right populist domination. This is analogous to the earlier move from post-Second World War Social Democratic domination, which ended in 1979/80. He emphasises the role of the 2008 Crash in dividing the UK and US ruling classes. This had led to the rapid growth of Right Populist politics in these and other states. The Right’s winning of the Brexit vote and then the election of Trump (‘Brexit, plus, plus, plus’) has performed a similar role in the transition from Neo-liberalist domination to Right Populist domination that the election of Thatcher and Reagan had played in the earlier transition.
Allan examines the role of Scotland’s Indy Ref1 in scaring the British ruling class, and the significance of their renewed alliance with reactionary unionism in Northern Ireland. He also looks at the response of the Neo-liberal Right, the Social Democratic Left and Irish and Scottish constitutional nationalists to the challenge of Right Populism. He argues they do not have the politics needed to effectively challenge the growing Right offensive. The Right shows no respect for even the limited democratic forms upheld by Social Democrats and Neo-liberals in their period of global hegemony.
Some neo-liberals have already jumped ship and joined the Right Populist bandwagon. Left Social Democrats, such as Jeremy Corbyn, are also actively, if unwittingly, facilitating the consolidation of the Right Populism. Within the Labour Party, the Left leadership and the Right are united in support of a gastarbeiter system of labour control to replace the free movement of people from the EU. To do this, they are hiding behind a notion of ‘democracy’, which tacitly accepts ethnic exclusion.
Meanwhile constitutional nationalists from Catalunya to Scotland and Ireland are paralysed in the face of reactionary unitary and unionist state offensives from the Spanish and UK states. This is because Rught Populists are quite prepared to ditch the devolutionary institutions bequeathed by the Social Democrats and Neo-liberals, which the latter build their national self-determination hopes upon.
The recognition of where we actually are politically is a necessity before we can make any further progress.
- From global Social Democratic to global Neo-liberal domination; from Butskellism to Blatcherism
- The 2008 Crash leads to a split in the national ruling classes with a section opting for Right Populism
- How Trump wants to use ‘America First’ Right Populism to reassert US global hegemony and its possible consequences
- The growing challenge from China and Trump’s attempts to create a new imperialist alignment involving Putin’s Russia
- Trump’s planned assault on the EU
- Trump’s ‘America First’, the Brexiteers and ‘Britain Second’
- Neo-liberal and Left Populist attempts to oppose the rise of Right Populism
- A Right Populist precursor in Northern Ireland prepares the way for the Brexiteer-led reactionary unionism and from ‘Better Together’ to ‘Bitter Together’
- The shock 2014 result of IndyRef1 pushes a frightened British ruling class towards reactionary unionism
- Brexit leads to Maybynism and the onward march of Right Populism
FROM BLATCHERISM TO MAYBYNISM
a) Corbyn’s alliance with anti-migrant forces in the trade unions
Jeremy Corbyn has faced the obvious problem of leading a Labour Party divided over Brexit on both its Right and Left. Instead of trying to provide a clear lead one way or the other, he has prevaricated, in order to hold together the Labour Party as an electoral ‘broad church’. Labour, like most Social Democratic parties, sees winning parliamentary elections as the key to power. Any pre-election public demonstrations are seen as mechanisms to launch the party into office. After winning office though, popular and especially independent mobilisations are to be clamped down upon.
Trade union officials (Right and Left) take on this policing role. Under Harold Wilson’s and James Callaghan’s Labour governments (1974-79), this was true of Frank Chapple (EEPTU) and Thomas Jackson (UPW) on the Right and Hugh Scanlon (AEU) and Jack Jones (T&GWU) on the Left. Under any future Labour-led government this would also be true of Tim Roache (GMBU) on the Right and Len McCluskey (UNITE) on the Left. Because of Corbyn’s desire to hold together a ‘broad church’, Labour party Right Remainers and Right Leavers have taken strength from his fear of desertions. They have continually resorted to the Right-wing press and threatened resignation.
But there is also a common approach to the issue of immigration, which brings together Labour’s Right Remainers and Left Brexiteers. In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, Labour Right Chuku Umanna, a pro-EU supporter, said that, “If continuation of the free movement is the price of single market membership then clearly we couldn’t remain in the single market.”[i] And Left Labour Jeremy Corbyn a supporter of Brexit (in some form or other) responded with “Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle”.[ii]
The only form of Brexit compatible with maintaining free movement within its bounds is the Norwegian model. Umanna (along with another Labour Right-winger David Lammy) soon realised that encouraging the Brexit Right over hostility to migrants could well spill over to other ethnic targets, including non-white British subjects. Therefore, Umunna moved a pro-Single Market amendment to May’s hard Brexit proposals on June 28th, 2017. Corbyn insisted on imposing a 3-line whip to oppose this. But in opposing Umanna, the Corbyn-led Labour Party lined up with the Tory Right and the DUP.
Corbyn had already helped May get her Article 50 bill through in January 2017, without any indication of what her Tory government planned next. Corbyn now helped May to get the overwhelming support she needed to break with any soft Brexit. Corbyn’s 3-line whip assistance on June 28th, 2018 proved to be a major step in enabling the Tories to redefine Brexit in much harder terms. And then, on January 31st, 2019, when May put forward the first reading of the Tories’ latest draconian new Immigration Bill, Corbyn in a real sickening display, refused to call for a 3-line whip to oppose this. With 78 Labour MPs absenting themselves. May got her bill through. Two Conservatives, Ken Clark and Anna Soubry proved to be more principled than Labours’ Right and Left Brexiters and voted against the bill.
In 2009, during UNITE and the GMBs’ campaign against the employment of non-British EU skilled migrant workers at the Lindsey oil refinery in Lincolnshire, an old Fascist phrase, ‘British jobs for British workers’ was raised by Gordon Brown. It was then enthusiastically taken up by the unions involved. But a new phrase also emerged – ‘social dumping’. The Right has always been quick to come up with put-down words to attack workers or others from different countries. But Labour politicians, trade union officials and industrial relations experts took up this particularly unpleasant phrase. ‘Social dumping’ suggests that migrant workers are some form of trash and that you wouldn’t touch them. The phrase has emerged again in January 2018 from UNITE delegates to Bermondsey constituency Labour Party. They argued that, “the Single Market and associated freedom of movement leads to ‘social dumping.'”[iii] What this means is an abandonment of any attempt to recruit and organise many workers from and across the EU, or to protect them when under attack, as Labour tries to appease Brexit voters.
In the nineteenth century, far greater numbers of migrants arrived on Great Britain’s shores, mainly unskilled Irish, but also skilled workers particularly from Germany. And in the face of this challenge, some British trade unions gave their backing to the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA), set up in London in 1864. This was initially organised to prevent migrant workers being used against domestic workers. But ‘British jobs for British workers’ was not the approach they adopted. Instead the IWMA extended its organisation to cover workers in as many countries as possible. Today, trade unions have much greater resources. There are far more easily accessible international forms of communication. But those who just accept the employers and states’ further division of the working class will be in no position to prevent a further slide to the Right. Nor will they be able to effectively defend British workers’ jobs, pay and conditions, particularly under conditions of economic crisis. An updated version of the he IWMA’s model of organising workers internationally is what is really needed today.
Many on the Left have tried to disguise the role of union leaders and others from the ‘British jobs for British workers’ tradition. In the 2017 election for UNITE general secretary they backed ‘Corbyn-supporting’ McCluskey against the independent Grassroots Left candidate, Ian Allinson. McCluskey ran a red-baiting and dogwhistle anti-migrant campaign. He and his UNITE partner, Karie Murphy have been most strongly supported by former CPGB/CPB members, Andrew Murray and Seamus Milne, but also by others claiming to be on the Left.
These four people, the 4Ms, have tried to use their key position in Corbyn’s leadership team to claim the internal Labour Party struggle is between a Remain-supporting Right and a Brexit-supporting Left. The reality is that Left Brexiteers like themselves, and the Right Brexiters share anti-migrant worker prejudices. They are also united with many Right Remainers over this. Those in the Labour Party, who are most likely to support the threatened EU migrant workers, and indeed other migrants, are to be found amongst the new influx of Left Remainers who have joined the Labour Party. Corbyn and his Left Brexiteer allies in the Labour machine are constantly trying to marginalise these people.
Some fear the prospect of a National Government (formed by anti-Brexit Tories, Lib-Dems and the Labour Right), but as far as attacks on EU migrant workers go, there already is one, with Left Brexiter support. What this shows is that Labour, even under Corybn, offers no constructive way out of the present crisis. It is trapped in a British chauvinist mind-set and will be unable to halt the further advance of Right populism, which they have already conceded so much to.
Labour’s flirting with reaction goes further. Corbyn, along with all the Brexiteers, through to the hardest Right, invoke the ‘democratic’ legitimacy of the 2016 Brexit vote. Yet the franchise excluded EU migrants, many of whom have lived in the UK for a long time. In the USA in the later 1860s, when the defeated Confederates began their assault on the revolutionary post-Civil War Reconstruction, they successfully pushed in the South for the ending of votes for freed slaves. These people called themselves Democrats. They upheld a white male franchise. Anybody trying to invoke the term ‘democrat’ to justify Brexit, with its ethnically defined (and 18+ age-limited) franchise represents the latest face of racist or national chauvinist ‘democracy’
Corbyn has tried to give the impression that he is leading May down the political track, which he has chosen over Brexit. But in reality, Corbyn continues to pave the way for May, a hard Brexit and harsher migrant labour controls. Thus, even after the setback May received in the 2017 general election, Labour’s continued ambiguity and weakness meant that she did not have to soften her stance on Brexit. She remained more concerned about the European Research Group whom she saw as the main pressure on her. She took the DUP on board to ensure her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ further Right trajectory was maintained.
But Corbyn has not only wavered and backtracked over immigration and migrant rights, he has continued to uphold the anti-democratic Crown Powers, including participation in the Privy Council and nominating people to the House of Lords. He has defended the Union and the denial of the democratic right of national self-determination.
b) Corbyn’s retreat before the Right and Zionist onslaught – a harbinger of other retreats in the future?
Furthermore, we have been given an early indication of how any possible future Corbyn-led Labour government would deal with ruling class pressure. The Israeli state and its wider Zionist supporters have been running a campaign, under the rubric of challenging anti-semitism, to end any meaningful criticism of the Israeli state. Zionism upholds a Jewish supremacist state in Israel and supports the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to achieve this. Any differences are about the best means to go about this. That definition is enough for any Socialist or genuine democrat to define Zionism. Zionism is supported by some Jews and opposed by others. And not all Zionists are Jews. For example, they have strong support from the wider American and British Right, the Protestant fundamentalist Right and the Labour Right.
Over a period of time other political forces have given backing to Zionists. British imperialists from an early stage saw the potential of Zionism to act as a colonial force to promote their interests in the Middle East. The US has now taken over this role. But Zionism also received early backing in the British Labour movement, especially from those on the Right who had supported white worker, settler colonialism in places such as Australia and South Africa. They defended the colonists’ superior position to the colonised ‘natives’. It is such thinking, inherited by today’s Labour Right, which makes them feel at home with the Zionists and joins them together in opposing any Palestinian resistance to continued ethnic cleansing.
The Right Zionist militias’ part in the massacres and rapes at Deir Yassin, and the Left Zionist mortaring of Jaffa, both to promote ethnic cleansing in 1948; the Israeli state’s permanent seizure of more Palestinian owned land in 1967, followed by further ethnic cleansing, and the creation of a Palestinian ‘bantustan’ in the West Bank and the world’s largest concentration camp in Gaza; the Israeli army’s complicity in the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in the Lebanon in 1982; and the extensive bombing of Gaza, including the use of white phosphorus incendiary shells over civilian areas from 2008-9, were all either ignored or downplayed by the Labour Right. Tony Blair, though, went further. He wanted to delay any ceasefire in Gaza in 2009, knowing full well that the Israeli state would use this time to impose more death and destruction on the Palestinians living there.
And one feature of Israeli occupation, which shares a lot with the thinking of the populist Right, is its love of massive walls. In Israel’s case they have been built, in order to directly annex even more Palestinian land. Trump looks on in awe as the Israeli authorities shoot down dozens of unarmed Palestinian wall protestors. And he hasn’t even got his Mexican wall built yet! Whilst May probably wishes she had as much power to deal with boats bringing asylum seekers over the English Channel, as the Israeli government has shown it has when confiscating Palestinian fishing boats off the Gaza coast.
Over the years, an international, non-violent campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has been developed to support the oppressed Palestinians. But BDS also acts as counter to the Israeli state and Zionists’ own often violent campaign of BDS. For them ‘B’ represents the boycott of the UN decision to give recognition to the Palestinian nation; ‘D’ represents the Israeli state’s continued violent divestment of Palestinian land; and ‘S’ represents the sanctions used against Israeli state critics. It is the Israeli state’s own BDS that has led to the international BDS campaign in response.
The BDS campaign is now the primary target of Israeli and Zionist pressure. And this is very useful for the Labour Right, in its media backed campaign to undermine Corbyn. But the Labour Left does not have the politics to counter this. Indeed, in Scotland, the Campaign for Socialism/Momentum that has taken responsibility for suspending Israeli state critics and pro-Palestinian supporters, to pre-empt any Right attacks within the Party, and the Israel/Zionist supporting sections of the media.
The Zionists’ Jewish supremacist laws and state institutions have long buttressed the apartheid nature of Israel. But the new Nation-state Law of 2018 enshrines Jewish supremacy in the Israeli constitution. Israel’s supporters amongst the Tories, Lib-Dems and Labour have largely ignored this. However, the British Far Right is cock-a-hoop. The EDL’s Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) supports this Israeli state move, because he wants an ethnic supremacist definition for the British state. The EDL and other Neo-fascists and Right-wingers are being seen at pro-Israel demonstrations.[iv] Some now share a real admiration for Israel. The Loyalists in Northern Ireland have long held this attitude towards Israel. They see the Palestinians as the equivalent of the Irish Nationalists.
Some of todays’ British Neo-fascists have substituted Islamophobia for the earlier British Fascists’ anti-Semitism. Others though hold their pro-Zionism and their anti-Semitism in a symbiotic relationship. If Zionism encourages the removal of Jewish people from the UK to Israel, then that can’t be bad for British Neo-fascists. There has been a long history of this relationship in the UK. In 1905, the Conservative and Unionist, Home Secretary, Arthur Balfour was responsible for the anti-Semitic Aliens Act, but in 1916 he produced the Balfour Declaration to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Today, Eastern European Right populists like Orban and Kaczinski hold a similar symbiotic relationship to Israel and anti-Semitism.
But you might have thought that the Labour Left, at least, could challenge Far Right support for an ethnic supremacist state. However, the Jewish Friends of Israel, which has Israeli state backing, and supports a Jewish supremacist state, is affiliated to the Labour Party. Now the Labour Party managed to avoid having a Labour Friends of the Jim Crow South, a Labour Friends of apartheid South Africa, or a Labour Friends of Orange ‘Ulster’ (although some of their Scottish party members may now see the local possibilities!).
Yet nobody in the Labour Party seems to question the affiliation of the Labour Friends of Israel, an ethnic supremacist state-supporting organisation. You can be pretty sure that the Labour Friends of Israel has no Palestinian members, with Israel being based upon their continued oppression, repression and expulsion. There is, though, a Labour Friends of Palestine (LFP). LFP has Palestinian and Jewish members and is campaigning against the oppression of Palestinians. Corbyn and his allies seems very reticent to point this out. He just stood back when prominent and genuinely anti-racist, pro-Palestinian members were targeted (e.g. former and current MPs Ken Livingstone and Chris Williamson, black Jewish activist. Jackie Walker and veteran anti-racist campaigner Marc Wadsworth), by a racist and/or pro-war pro-Israeli Right in the party (e.g. Tom Watson. Tom Harris, Louise Ellman).
Now the considerable political weight, which Zionism currently holds in the US and UK, is not due to some inborn Jewish trait, as argued by some Right-wing anti-Semitic groups. Zionism’s current strength is a reflection of the backing Israel gets from the US and UK states. In other political circumstances, this could change. It did in 1971 for those Right-wing Chinese Nationalists with their previously US-backed seat on the UN Security Council, and in 1921 for those Right Irish Unionists in the south of Ireland.
What Corbyn and the Labour Lefts’ inability to counter Israeli state and domestic Zionist pressure reveals is that they would buckle down before the much more entrenched power of the City and the anti-democratic Crown Powers of the UK state, if Labour ever took office and tried to implement its quite mild Social Democratic manifesto. The British ruling class opposes Corbyn, not because his proposals amount to Socialism, but because, ever since the 2008 Crash, they are fearful of the effect on their shrinking profits of even mild Social Democratic reforms. In the USA, both Neo-Liberals and now Trump and the Right Populists dismiss the very limited existing Medicare as ‘Socialist’. This despite it falling far short of what has long existed in northern and western Europe. Such public health provision was accepted and even extended by Conservatives during the long post-war boom.
c) From Blatcherism to Maybynism
In the transition from the old Social Democratic view of society under Labour in the 1960 and ‘70s, to the full acceptance of Neo-liberalism under New Labour (with its social liberal add-on) in the 1990s, a series of political adjustments were made, e.g. ‘Dented Shield’ Labour in the 1980s. Because of the depth of the current multi-facetted global crisis, the pressure to follow the Right is taking place much more quickly. It took 18 years for fully fledged Neo-liberal Blatcherism to develop. Marxism Today emerged as a journal advocating a particular British accommodation to the ‘New Times’ and helped to pave the way for New Labour. Today, their one-time opponents, the ‘Tankies’, finally hope the day has come for their own very ‘British road to Socialism’ via National Populism. But the prospects for a reheated, nationally based, AES/Common Programme approach are even less propitious than they were in the early 1980s, when the pressures of US-led corporate globalisation were not yet as strong.
It has taken hardly 18 months for Maybynism to emerge. It is likely to be transitional phenomenon, since neither May nor Corbyn are real Populist figureheads. But with Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson in the wings, full-blown Right populism is beginning to look more likely. May and Corbyn represent possible stepping stones on the way.
The first thing needed in order to challenge growing Right Populist domination is to see how deeply it has already penetrated British society, including the Left, following the Brexit vote. Whatever Labour Left Brexiters and non-Labour Lexiters believe, the rise of Right Populism, centred in the UK around Brexit, is not the revolt of a would-be militant working class. Atomised and alienated workers have acted as cannon-fodder for one wing of a divided British ruling class – the Right Populists. In the face of the impact of the 2008 Crash these Right Populists offer the British ruling class a reinforced UK state and an even harsher disciplinary regime to crush any opposition. And just as the Social Democrats were removed for their inability to deal with the economic crisis if the late 1970s, today the Neo-liberals are failing in the face of their inability to deal with the post-2008 Crash. British Right Populists are also now part of a global phenomenon, highlighted by the close link between many Brexiteers in the UK and Trump’s ‘America First’ backers.
So just as Old Labour’s continued attacks on workers in the late 1970s paved the way for something worse – Neo-liberalism, so New Labour’s social Neo-liberal attacks, paved the way for Right Populism. And both ruling class ‘solutions’ to crisis have been supported by sections of the working class, the Neo-liberal Tories in 1979 and 1983 after the Falklands War, and the Right Populist UKIP in the 2015 Euro-election. And like Butskellism and Blatcherism, Right Populist politics is part of a wider global phenomenon. Trump’s election victory has given Right Populism a global coherence. This has provided considerable backing and inspiration for Right Populists in the UK and elsewhere.
However, Socialists should not be pursuing an alternative Left Populist path. Populism is always national state focussed, and the limitations of this were highlighted in Greece under Syriza. When first elected in 2015, Syriza was considerably to the Left of Corbyn’s Labour Party. But its nationally based, neo-Keynesian challenge was seen off by the internationally based Troika. Populism leaves most of the key elements of its national state constitution largely untouched, whether in Greece or the UK.
Socialists in these islands need to adopt an immediate programme (guide to action) based on popular sovereignty and a social republican break-up of the UK state and the City of London’s financial empire and its ‘Britain Second’ partnership with the US Right populist ‘America First’ empire. And we need to be part of a new ‘internationalism from below alliance to achieve this.
If you would like a pdf copy of the full pamphlet e-mail:-
Chapter 6, Scotland – from ‘Project Hope’ to ‘Project Hate’ – and from ‘Better Together’ to ‘Bitter Together’ can be seen in the bella caledonia blog at:-