Allan Armstrong has added an addendum to his book From Pre-Brit to Ex-Brit (https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/socialists-and-december-12th-election.pdf) following the December 12th UK and February 8th Irish general elections.
COMPETING STRATEGIES IN THE FACE OF THE BREAK-UP OF THE UK AND THE CASE FOR A SOCIALIST REPUBLICAN ‘INTERNATIONALISM FROM BELOW’ ALLIANCE
Although Johnson gained an overall Right Populist electoral victory in the UK on December 12th, this disguises the fact that in Scotland the constitutional nationalist SNP emerged as the electoral victor, pushing the Tories and Scottish Labour into retreat. In Wales, the still largely liberal unionist, Welsh Labour and the constitutional nationalist, Plaid Cymru retained an overall majority, but the Tories made substantial gains. In Northern Ireland, the reactionary unionist DUP lost its overall majority, giving a tentative constitutional nationalist (Sinn Fein and SDLP) and liberal unionist (APNI) alliance a majority. Furthermore, there are wider national democratic movements in Scotland, Wales and Ireland/Northern Ireland, which will be prepared to challenge Johnson’s reactionary unionist clampdown. This is a recipe for continued constitutional crisis, with Scotland in the front line at present.
The reactionary unionist attempts being made to hold a crisis-ridden, post-Brexit UK together could contribute to its break-up. However, this could still occur in a reactionary manner. The increased Little Englander/Greater British ethnic nationalism, which Right Populists like Johnson and Farage are promoting, could lead to an ethnic Nationalist response in in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The development of anti-English sentiment on the fringe of the Scottish independence movement and the development of potentially anti- ‘others’ groups – anti-trans, anti-secular, anti-Irish, anti-Gaelic – in the ‘culture wars’, which have become more central to a politically stalemated SNP, is an indication of this danger in Scotland. A retreat into cultural based Nationalism, based on the primacy of the Welsh language, would be an indication of this in Wales. The surge in the anti-migrant, anti-Traveller vote in the 2018 Irish presidential election and the formation of the socially reactionary all-Ireland Aontu and Irish Freedom Party (IFP) are indications of this danger in Ireland.
For the European capitalist classes, the EU’s ‘internationalism from above’ was designed to encourage the free flow of capital and profits, with the internal free flow of labour subordinate to these. But the EU framework led to another ‘internationalism from below’. Migrants from a variety of ethnic backgrounds in all EU member states have taken up jobs, studentships and formed personal relationships, across the existing EU state boundaries. There are still 2.3 million EU migrants living in the UK (1). And, particularly when it comes to taking industrial action, some of these migrants have been to the forefront of militant action, e.g. Latin American cleaners in London and Turkish GAMA workers in Ireland.
Migrants have contributed to an even wider range of new hybrid European identities. These include Scottish-European, Welsh-European and Irish-European. This growing Europeanisation has developed into a national form of resistance to Brexit in Scotland, Northern Ireland/Ireland and Welsh- speaking Wales. This is coupled to opposition to the re-provincialisation of these nations under the UK’s reactionary unionist offensive. But the greatest number of hybrid Europeans living in these islands, although currently a minority, are to be found in England – the English-Europeans – especially amongst the young. And England includes a world city, London, as well as substantial multi-ethnic, largely working class communities in many other cities.
Although the more politically advanced Scotland, Ireland and Wales, highlighted by the election results, are more likely to take a lead in challenging the existing anti-democratic UK state, this could provide inspiration for Socialists in England, just as the Black-led, anti-racist movements of the 1970s did, both politically and culturally. The old NF liked to shout, ‘There ain’t no black in the union jack’. But the Windrush and Grenfell Tower scandals, and the attempted expulsion of 50 black British subjects to Jamaica, show that for the Right, black British residents should know their place in post-Brexit UK if they are going to be tolerated.
There are also nearly 338,000 EU (and another 57,300 UK) migrants living in Ireland.(2) Along with Muslims and Travellers, East Europeans have become the target of Irish Right Populist attacks. There are 40,000 EU migrants living in Northern Ireland. (3) East Europeans (especially Roma) have been attacked (4) whilst Muslims have also faced hostility, including from Right Populist DUP politicians. Beyond them (and often linked behind the scenes) lie the neo-Fascist Loyalists with their full spectrum racism and resort to physical attacks.
The thing that unites the Right Populists and the Far Right is their support for Brexit and/or Irexit. They see the EU as being responsible for immigration and the social liberalisation of society. Yet the big majority of EU migrants and their families form part of the working class in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Along with Irish and UK workers and students, these migrants enjoy/ed freedom of movement and the existing rights of citizens throughout the EU. Brexit represents a major attack on this freedom of movement and these rights, highlighted by Johnson’s latest Immigration Bill.
But whereas Brexit also means a further strengthening of the UK state, Irexit would mean Ireland changing subordination to the EU bureaucracy for even greater subordination to the UK and USA. The Irish government is operating in the context of the unresolved global economic crisis, increased tensions between the EU and the UK, whilst Trump’s ‘America First’ government will play these off in US corporate interests. A partitioned Ireland remains a relatively easy plaything for competing imperialisms.
If the Republic of Ireland were to leave the EU, where would the alternative trade links be found? There is no prospect for a viable Irish (or any other) capitalist state outside the current economically integrated, global imperial order. Even prosperous Norway has opted for a close relationship with the EU, rather than individual state-to-state relationships on WTO terms. A post- Brexit UK has found itself unable to bring about Empire2. India now has the economic clout to ensure that a neo-colonial relationship cannot be enforced there. Instead, Johnson’s government has had to kowtow to Trump’s US. Any new trade deal with the US will lead to far worse workers’ and consumers’ rights, and undermine existing environmental protection. And should the UK seek alternative deals with the rising imperial power, China, US pressure will soon be exerted. Under Johnson the UK will become even more subordinate to US imperialism and its war mongering.
If the UK is in a relatively weak bargaining position with the EU, the one place it has some influence, though, is over the Republic of Ireland, a peripheral member state. Here the UK still has a significant economic clout, particularly through its City (and Edinburgh) based banks, with their extensive links to property developers. Nigel Lawson in welcoming Brexit, has gone as far as to suggest that ‘“it would be great’ if the Irish free state realised it had ‘made a mistake’ in getting independence from Britain in 1922.’” (5) If the GFA has been termed “Sunningdale for slow learners”, then maybe Lawson’s suggested deal (or something like it) could be termed the (unamended 1912 all-Ireland) ‘Third Irish Home Rule Bill for even slower learners’! It is unlikely, though, that the UK could ever bring a united Ireland fully back into the UK state (and Irish-American opposition would also work against this in the USA). But both the UK and US have long experience in creating different forms of neo-colonial ‘independent’ states to disguise who is in real control.
In February 2018, the IFP organised an Irexit/Brexit conference in Dublin to which Nigel Farage and Communist Party of Ireland fellow-traveller, Anthony Coughlan, were invited to speak (6) (such Left/ Right line-ups have a long history in CP circles). In the December 12th Westminster general election, Conor Rafferty stood for IFP, in Mid-Ulster, supported by Aontu. But, just as the economic logic of Brexit leads the UK into even deeper dependence upon the USA; so, the logic of Brexit/Irexit, would lead to Ireland becoming a British neo-colony once more, with increased ties to the USA. So, it is easy to see why Farage was interested in the conference. The Right Populists, like IFP, also see that such attempts to turn the clock back provide better conditions to hold on to the socially reactionary aspects of their state’s past. Any Left retreat into tail ending ‘Little Englander’/Greater British, traditionalist Irish, or provincial ‘Ulster’ Right Populists could only give succour to the re-imposition of greater British Unionist and imperialist control over the whole of Ireland, under the wider auspices of US imperialism.
In Northern Ireland, it is clear is that the re-establishment of the NI Executive and Assembly, following Brexit, will not lead to any longer-term improvement for the vast majority. Johnson’s new Union-Jack flagged funds and infrastructure projects, targeted at the North and Midlands of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (probably in that order) are going to be somewhat stretched. They will be blown away in the event of a further deepening of the on-going economic crisis. But whilst the funds are still being dispensed, they will be diverted away from the devolved parliaments and handed over to shady politicians with their personal business links, ensuring very little gets to local working-class communities.
Johnson’s Tory Right Populists are organised, have an all-islands strategy, and a wider anti-EU strategy in alliance with Trump’s USA. They can use the formidable UK state with its Crown Powers and the Right Populists’ willingness to override supposed judicial restraints to enforce this. Ironically, the constitutional nationalist parties place more faith in the UK’s ‘liberal’ institutions than Johnson’s Right Populists. Dependence on these will not be enough to fend off Johnson’s rollback of ‘Devolution-all-round’.
Furthermore, the constitutional nationalist parties have only developed a shallow, and sometimes sentimentalist (pan-Celtic) ‘internationalism’. This is because they defend and promote the interests of existing or would-be national ruling classes. So their diplomatic ‘internationalism’ can only reflect these interests. Thus constitutional nationalists concentrate their attentions upon limited, self-serving ‘internationalism from above’ alliances. Currently these are focussed upon the EU bureaucracy and appeals to the increasingly jaded, post-Obama Democrats in the USA. This does not match, never mind challenge the British ‘internationalist’ links of the reactionary unionist Right.
In contrast, Socialist Republicans can promote genuine internationalism based on the shared interests of the exploited and oppressed. And, unlike the constitutional nationalists, who accept the constitutional legitimacy of the existing anti-democratic UK state, based on the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Westminster, Socialist Republicans base can their immediate strategy on the sovereignty of the peoples of the four nations in these islands – a reunited Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England.
There is no shortage of economic and social issues and unrest, whether over housing, land, water, women’s and LBGT rights. To date, widely supported social movements – over gay rights and abortion – fighting against socially conservative and reactionary values, both south and north of the border, have produced the strongest all-Ireland focus for actions. Young people, in particular, have contributed to two impressive referenda victories in what had been a socially conservative Catholic Ireland – the first over gay marriage, the second over abortion rights. Many, younger Irish workers and students, following their own European experiences, have already ensured that Ireland’s traditional social conservatism has been thoroughly undermined. This has also given heart to many from both communities living under the ‘Ulster’ Unionists’ and Loyalists’ socially benighted Six Counties regime.
And, even on the immediate pressing issue of the Border itself, there would seem to be all-Ireland possibilities beyond the Sinn Fein/SDLP backed Border Communities Against Brexit, which places its main emphasis on lobbying the EU parliament. A neglected issue, with consequences for the current border, is the plight of migrants, under attack in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Migrants are going to be amongst the worst affected by any hardening of the Border. So they have the greatest interest in Ireland’s full re-unification.
The housing issue has figured prominently, both in the Republic and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has a particular problem when it comes to overcoming Loyalist attempts to enforce sectarian housing allocation. The bi- sectarian state is unable to challenge this. The PSNI sometimes warns residents of Loyalist threats, suggesting they move to a safer area. This cuts out the next level of Loyalist intimidation. But, in the process the PSNI becomes responsible removing the tenants! However, Northern Ireland, even if not to the same extent as the Republic of Ireland, shares the wider deficit of housing provision. And behind this, lie British (and Scottish-based) banks with their funding for property speculators playing a prominent role. The Irish government has sent in the gardai to enforce evictions. The history of evictions in Ireland makes this a potent issue.
But for Socialists to be effective in Ireland, they need to unite the economic, social and constitutional issues and become part of a wider ‘internationalism from below’ alliance. And for any possibility of longer-term success, those leading all-Ireland organisations and campaigns would have to move beyond just pressuring the Dail or Stormont. These two institutions are locked into a subservient role, the first indirectly, the second directly, within the British imperial set-up. This is supported by the US, and will likely soon be backed by the EU as part of any post-Brexit deal. Both Irish governments and the Northern Irish Executive continue to back Partition whatever modifications are found necessary to ameliorate or disguise its negative effects.
Merely pressuring the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), or the Northern Irish Committee of ICTU (NIC-ICTU) and their affiliated union bureaucracies does not lead to a fundamental challenge to either the EU’s ECB or UK’s City of London. The ICTU has long been involved in Social Partnership deals which reduce trade union leaders to acting as personnel managers for the state-business directed management of the Irish economy. NIC-ICTU’s similar ‘Fresh Start’ deals tie it to upholding the bi-sectarian Stormont set-up, in the hope this will ameliorate the attacks being made by the UK state and Northern Irish business leaders. It will require independent action, ready to defy ICTU in the Republic of Ireland and NIC-ICTU in Northern Ireland, to counter this more effectively. Upholding the sovereignty of union members in their workplaces over the sovereignty of union bureaucrats in their HQs (and local offices) is central to any Socialist Republican agenda.
The majority of current British, English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish Socialists do not make independent constitutional challenges to the Right Populists (with some tail ending their Brexit) or to the constitutional nationalists (with some tail ending their immediate ‘independence’ proposals). They see their role as concentrating upon economic and social issues – constitutional struggles belong to the competing sections of the ruling class/es. These Socialists have no immediate democratic political agenda of their own.
Little concerned with the nature of the UK – unionist, imperialist, constitutional monarchist – these Socialists are unable to appreciate the significance of the mounting national democratic opposition across these islands. Thus, they have made no attempt to mount coordinated campaigns to link up the various economic, social and constitutional challenges which have already emerged. This despite some Socialists being members of supposed Internationals, e.g. the SWP’s International Socialist Tendency and the SP(E&W)’s Committee for a Workers’ International. Indeed, as these Internationals fall apart, what is revealed is their dominance by their British sections – the SWP and SP(E&W). Their Lexit Brexits represent an extension of their essentially ‘British roads to socalism’ via Left Social Democracy.
This is sometimes given a ‘revolutionary’ cover by drawing on Trotsky’s idea of a ‘transition’ to Socialism. Yet, without widespread countervailing power, independent of the institutions of the capitalist state, there can be no transition to Socialism. Particularly during a period of economic crisis, Social Democracy takes on state orientated defence of capitalism, acting not as a transition to Socialism but to intensified capitalist exploitation.(7) And this is also very much the current experience of Social Democracy even in its most Left forms, e.g. Syriza in Greece.
And when it comes to defending those millions of migrant workers (mainly from other EU states) or potential workers (current asylum seekers), these Socialist organisations’ lack of practical support, and willingness to provide a Left cover for a Right Populist-led Brexit or Irexit, is another major obstacle. Their Lexit Brexits need to be replaced by an Ex-Brit strategy as part of an all-islands ‘internationalism from below’ alliance which then seeks allies within the EU.
A genuine Socialist Republican ‘internationalism from below’ strategy would unite those who think and are prepared to fight in outward looking European-wide terms. And it would also involve those mounting national democratic challenges in non-state nations, e.g. Scotland and Catalunya, denied the right of self-determination by their existing states, or by the EU bureaucracy based upon these states.
Despite the claims of liberal EU supporters, the EEC did not bring peace to its member states. Although armed conflicts were ended between member states, both the UK and Spain were able to conduct ‘dirty wars’ in Northern Ireland and Euskadi, without any challenge from an EEC/EU, based upon the sovereignty of existing states. The current activities of the semi-Francoist Spanish Castilian state highlight the internationalist deficit underpinning the EU today.
With EU’s neo-Liberal leaders having abandoned any pretence that they want to maintain European unity for the benefit of anybody but themselves, and the Right Populists wanting to break-up the EU on an ethnic national state basis, Socialist Republicans need to invoke ‘internationalism from below’. Under today’s conditions of Right Populist political ascendancy, this must, as an absolute minimum, extend to all those migrant workers across the states making up the EU. Many of these are new Europeans from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The problem with the bosses’ EU is not its supra-national basis but that it is too politically, economically and socially restricted to meet the needs of those living within or immediately beyond its borders. The material and practical base for being or becoming Scottish, Irish, Welsh, English, English, Catalan, Basque or other hybrid Europeans already exist. It now falls upon Socialists to take up the EU leaders’ abandoned baton of claimed greater European unity for the benefit of the majority. Socialist Republicans need to build on the already achieved ‘Europe from below’ and proclaim, ‘Another Europe is necessary’.
Campaigning for an immediate ex-Brit, reunited Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England within a federal, democratic, secular, sustainable, social European Republic provides the best basis for us all to eventually become ‘citizens of the world’. And taking responsibility for this world is something already becoming an imperative due to global environmental degradation which threatens humankind. The best basis upon which this dystopian future can now be avoided is the creation of a global commune.