The following exchange is an update of a discussions on the Republican Socialist Alliance list, in the aftermath of Sir Keir Starmer’s ‘Damascus road’ conversion to Brexit and the SNP leadership’s continued commitment to the EU.

The exchange is between Allan Armstrong (RCN) Murdo Ritchie (RCN) and Miguil Martinez (RSA)

Sir Keir Starmer, Brexit- wherever the British ruling class takes me

1. On 4 Jan 2021, Allan Armstrong,

I thought that Johnson’s crushing of Corbyn, and Labour’s historical defeat in December 12th 2019 would prick any last Left Brexit illusions. They told us that a Brexit vote would fatally damage the British ruling class, finish off the Tories and open up the road to an all-British/UK return to 1945 style social democracy. Larry Elliot’s article, however, shows that some Left Brexiteers have learnt nothing – so attached are they to illusions in the British social democratic past. However, Elliott can now take comfort in the fact that Starmer is a Brexiteer. The majority of ruling class have changed their minds – so naturally he follows them. They welcomie the opportunity Brexit provides for a stepped-up offensive against the working class and oppressed. Starmer will follow them in this too.

Not that all ‘Left’ Brexiteers think Labour has gone far enough. George Galloway wants a pro-Brexit, pro-Union alliance with the Tories for this year’s Holyrood election..

SNP leadership – uncritical support for the EU

2. On 5 Jan 2021, Murdo Ritchie

Dear Allan,

Are you seriously demanding that the socialist left lines up behind the SNP to re-join the European Union???

The EU is failed organisation that is causing misery across the entire continent.

Learn the lessons of the referendum and respect the result. Your approach is immensely divisive.

Larry Elliot’s articles in the Guardian are written from a far too optimistic panglossian perspective, though not wrong. The EU is undergoing imperial decline in a growing competitive climate and has no optimistic future either inside or outside of the EU. That is why the pursuit of an independent workers’ identity is the best approach.

If you want properly understand the anti-democratic, dangerously authoritarian project that the European Union in all its existing and prior incarnations, then I suggest you read Peery Anderson’s analyses in the last two edition of the London Review of Books. The last article uses the approach I took of looking at its institutional structure making exactly the same points I made.

It is bewildering -as well as disturbing- how many on the so-called left have failed to address the problems the EU as an institution is currently causing.

It is no accident that they have been played by those manipulating race and ethnicity guilt as well as fantasies about workers’ rights into backing a supra-governmental body that escapes any popular feeling. They have also used guilt by association to slander anyone using any other critique as being associated with Johnson, Farage and all other types of racists. It is offensive and absurd as if Cameron, Osborne, Clegg et al and the “liberal centre” are not pursuing racist objectives.

The muddle classes will never forget just how many rejected their elite postures, and will do all in their power to overturn or corrupt the electoral mandate that was clearly given. Perhaps you will claim that Scotland didn’t vote the same way. This, then, asks the question: Are you prepared to inflicted the tight budgetary constraints on the Scottish people that joining the the EU would impose??? Are you really prepared to tie up workers struggles for this worthless institution for one or two generations into the future? Seriously???

In comradeship,


3. On 5 Jan 2021, Miguil Martiniz,

Hi Murdo,

Could you explain what you mean by ‘manipulating race and ethnicity guilt’?

It’s not clear what you mean.




4. On 5 Jan 2021, Allan Armstrong

Hi Murdo,

The EU is not an imperial state, but a treaty organisation of existing imperialist states (until recently the UK, and also France) and other states. No EU army has ever intervened in any imperial wars – the prime culprits have been the UK (by far the worst) followed by France. Other member states have selectively backed some wars, but with their own armed forces, whilst others have declined (e.g. during the Second Iraq War). The EU’s politics reflect those of the majority of its existing leading member states, e.g. social market until 1991, neo-liberal since then, with the main challenge now coming from the right populists.

The institutions of the EU state also reflect these changes. The ‘institutional structure” of the EU “promotes misery” because this is what the dominant neo-liberal states do domestically. The UK state was always to the forefront of this in the EU, and the Brexiteers want to leave the EU because it is a barrier to the imposition of even greater misery. After the 2008 Crash, the City of London worried about the possibility of greater bank regulation within the EU. It balanced this against the dangers of losing its privileged position within the EU. Eventually the City gave its support to Johnson’s deal, whilst moving key operations to the EU. The City’s Jersey and Guernsey tax havens have now made their own deals with the EU.

Since the EU is a constituent part of the currently US-dominated global imperial order it is a truism to say that “the EU is a failed organisation”. Although it would be more accurate to call it a “failing organisation” – like the UK, or the NHS for that matter. This is for the same underlying reasons following the 2008 Crash. The same could be said of the USA. The EU remains subordinate to US imperialism, highlighted by the NATO membership of its major states. Only individual non-EU states in the Balkans and the Russian borderlands are more subordinate. But after Brexit, the UK will become even more subordinate to the USA, if that is possible. The only significant debate about the extent of “failing organisations” under imperialism is whether they are confined to a declining West, with China due to take over as global hegemon and providing global stability (not the same as general prosperity and well-being!) sometime during this century; or whether China is also part of the overall decline of the “failed organisations” of global imperialism.

Despite your strange accusation, I have outlined the “lessons of the referendum results” at some length. This includes the profoundly anti-democratic effect of the exclusion from the 2016 Brexit referendum franchise of those most effected – EU residents and 16-18 year olds – and the illegal removal of EU residents from the 2019 EU elections. No socialist should give any recognition to the “electoral mandate” given under such a “corrupt” and manipulated franchise. Even on your own terms, the majority of people in Scotland voted by a much larger majority to support Remain (and it would have been larger still if there had been a more democratic franchise) than the narrow majority voting for Brexit in England.

Are those English workers voting for UKIP, the Brexit Party and Johnson’s Tory Party more class conscious than workers in Scotland who voted to Remain or for the SNP? Are Loyalists in Northern Ireland more class conscious than Republicans? To continue to argue for Brexit in Scotland provides a much clearer example of being “immensely divisive”, especially as there had been no alternative Left Brexit leadership after the Brexit vote. The three largest British Socialist organisations, the SWP, SP and CPB, all claim to be parties and have all stood in past elections (including for the EU parliament), but when it came to the crunch, they failed to offer any electoral challenge to the Right Brexiteers in 2017 or 2019 (either in the EU or the UK general elections). This was something that the even harder right (UKIP, Brexit Party, BNP) did despite both May and Johnson’s commitment to a hard Brexit.

Ever since the 2014 EU elections, I have tested my analyses and political predictions in debates and articles covering the EU. I anticipated the rise of the Right populists (who in the UK also happen to be reactionary unionists) ( I have done this publicly in RIC, RISE and Another Europe is Possible. The Left Brexiters and Lexiters argued that a Brexit vote could fatally cripple the British ruling class and the Tories, and that it would provide great openings for the Left. It was obvious to me and others that Brexit could only ever drive politics to the Right. The December 12th, 2019 general election put paid to all the Left Brexiter and Lexiter illusions. Brexit was always under the control of the Right. Originally backed by a minority section of the British ruling class, by the mid-to late 2019, Brexiteers had won the support of the majority of this ruling class, including the chair of the Bank of England.

Corbyn, the Left Brexiters and Lexiters helped to smooth ground for this move to the Right, and I outlined every painful step of their course. The closer Brexit came, the stronger the Right became and the weaker the Left. The Brexit project was always to further centralise the UK state, attack migrant workers (and asylum seekers), and to remove EU safeguards over workers’ conditions, consumer and environmental conditions (however limited, and themselves the product of earlier trade union strength in some EU member countries ). The Left Brexiters and Lexiters have failed to derail any of these attacks. Sir Keith Starmer, falling back on the Labour Right strategy of offering the British ruling class a backup fire and theft insurance policy, has now followed them and signed up to Johnson’s Brexit. He has abandoned any intention of getting the UK to join the EU again. And as with Ed Miliband (or Corbyn for that matter) this will not be the only concession he will make to the Tories. Starmer’s U-turn is being done to further cement their already shared strong UK state, anti-migrant politics. These always united the Right neo-liberal Remainers and the Right and Left populist Brexiteers. The Europhile Lib-Dems have not and are very unlikely in the future to become a vehicle for any British ruling class campaign to rejoin the EU. The British ruling class has long been mainly divided between Eurosceptics and Europhobes. The socialist answer to the evident post-2008 failings of capitalism and the EU leaders’ decision to use its institutions just to protect the bankers and major corporations, should not have been to retreat into a narrow British nationalism (an increasingly ethnic nationalism already flagged up in Brown’s and Gove’s attempts to come up with an ethnic (cultural) definition of British nationality, and the ethnically based franchise for the 2016 referendum). Socialists needed to take up the baton of wider European unity (not confined to existing EU states). A vote to leave the EU would undermine the already achieved ‘internationalism from below’ gains based on many mixed personal relationships, the new wider multinational culture, the shared membership of trade unions and political organisations (the SSP, certainly in Edinburgh, had many members from other member EU states). And for those of us in Scotland and Ireland EU membership was an advance on the earlier British provincialism, which the current government is determined to restore. The ‘internationalism from below’ socio-economic, culture and politics within the EU has far transcended the limited ‘internationalism from above’, promoted mainly for the benefit of capital and profits. These limitations came about as the result of EU membership based on existing states and their ruling classes were furthered limited by the UK state seeking exemptions from any of the more progressive aspects of EU legislation.

The 2.9 million EU migrants (and others), along with their counterparts in many other EU states (particularly dominant member states), constitute the basis for a renewed European ‘internationalism from below’. Furthermore, in Scotland, Catalunya and Euskadi there are also movements which challenge the existing state make-up of the EU. RIC, at its best, united this socio-economic and democratic (the exercise of national self-determination) challenge to the UK state, the EU bureaucracy and US imperialism – Another Scotland is Possible, Another Europe is Possible, Another World is Possible. Significantly, it was those ex-SWPers in the ISG, who adhered to the Lexit line, who ended up winding down RIC nationally and handing over to ‘All Under One Banner’ the only political alternative to the current SNP leadership. For the ISG, the IndyRef1movement was over – let’s look for another movement to tailend – and along came Brexit then Corbyn! ISG/Conter are now paralysed over what to do about a reformed RIC or AUOB. In 2012, the ISG seized the initiative from the SWP with the formation of RIC. Today the SWP look like seizing it back in AUOB/Yes Alba. It is a moot point, however, whether the SWP will be able to counter growing Scottish right populism, also to be found in AUOB; or like many other Brexiters throughout the UK, they will just tailend and adapt to this too (as the SWP did to Islamic communalism in Respect, along with George Galloway).

I don’t know who your accusation that “Cameron. Osborne, Clegg are our not “pursuing racist objectives” is directed at. In many of my articles and debates I have gone to great lengths to expose the hypocrisy of neo-liberalism when it comes to racism and anti-migrant politics, particularly under Blair and Brown (followed by “Cameron. Osborne, Clegg” and Gove). I have also attacked the myth promoted by Left Brexiters that the neo-liberals wanted the free movement of labour. The Schengen (and other) walls became higher, and more migrant detention centres were opened up under the neo-liberals (especially under New Labour) than had ever existed before. The problem for the Brexiteers is these walls aren’t high enough, the English Channel not wide enough, nor the detention camps far enough away – hence their need to “take back control”.

The neo-liberals had paved the way for the new ascendancy of right populism, just as the old pre-1979 social democrat Labour government paved the way for the neo-liberals, e.g. bowing before the demands of the IMF, the ‘Great {non} Debate’ over education and the resort to the army in the 1977 Firemen’s Strike. In the early 1980s UK, the old Labour Left, led by Tony Benn, mounted a rearguard attack on the ascendant neo-liberalism. The 1984-5 Miners’ Strike provided the final battleground upon which the Bennites might have taken over the Labour Party if the strike had been victorious. Their defeat ensured the Bennites did not win out. So, the sort of politics that Corbyn represents today, a watered down Bennism (with the Green New Deal taking on the mantle of the old Alternative Economic Strategy) was not tested in government.

However, in France, between 1981-3, the SPF’s Mitterand and the CPF’s Marchais did form a government around the similar left social democratic, neo Keynesian, ‘Common Programme’. By this time the global corporations, particularly finance (led by Wall Street and the City of London) had already largely broken free from the restraints of national governments and were able to get round the attempted restrictions on their plans. They soon pressured Mitterrand into ousting Marchais and bowing to their demands. Meanwhile in 1981,the PCF mayor of Vitry in Paris led a bulldozer attack on migrant workers hostels.The prospects for national social democratic neo-Keynesianism had disappeared, several decades before Corbyn and the dewy eyed, ‘Spirit of 45’ or mid-70’s inspired, Left Brexit project reappeared. Any attempts to resuscitate such politics can only lead the Left further to the Right and on to Red-Brown alliances prefigured by the PCF in 1981.

The sad thing about much of the very British Left is that they are so Britain focussed. They also have a limited understanding of who constitutes the working class (the super-exploited and super-oppressed are marginalised, ignored, or denigrated in their thinking).They sometimes counter ‘real’ (i.e. economistic or ‘bread and butter’) working class politics to ‘identity based’ politics. Remove women, black, migrant, gay, lesbian or trans from their working class and it soon appears to be confined to British. white, male, trade unionists, where others are at best tolerated or abandoned under pressure from the Right. As if the majority of women,black, migrant, gay, lesbian or trans people are not also members of the working class (indeed in some cases in larger percentages).

Socialists should always see the close link between exploitation and oppression and recognise the political intent behind attempts to belittle the latter. This only provides succour to right populist, national chauvinist (or the further right’s, white, male) politics. Thus, stripping exploitation from the lived experience of real workers (who are not divided into the abstract categories of the exploited or oppressed but combine both of these ) is best challenged politically by our class’s ‘unity in diversity’. This approach, combined with internationalism, provides the basis for “independent working class” politics (not “identity”). Otherwise, you end up going down the right populist road and possibly further.I think we already have ‘Left’ Brexiteers who will follow such a path. George Galloway isn’t unique in this regard.

And on the other side, strip ‘identity’ oppression from its class context and exploitation and you end up providing cover for those who only want to ‘break the glass ceilings’ and find their own place under the capitalist sun – US Democrats and large chunks of Labour and SNP spring to mind – but they are also beginning to retreat further under right populist pressure, just as an earlier generation of social democrats retreated before neo-liberal racism and anti-migrant sentiments.

It does not surprise me that Miguil asks you what is meant by “manipulating race and ethnicity`’. Whether you recognise it or not, such cod psychology is very much a feature of the Right and should form no basis for Socialist thinking. The Right’s target has been to undermine active working class internationalist solidarity. Whatever each individual person’s’ psychological basis for action, it is a shared working class internationalist politics that best motivates those fighting for Another Scotland, Another Europe and Another World. In immediate terms that means defending the rights of all those EU residents in the UK , including their right to vote. Many of them are currently in the front line of attack under the government’s Covid-19 policies but they work alongside others also facing the government’s offensive. The Brexiteers have had their first great British ‘victory’ – the highest Covid death rates in Europe. They are looking forward to more ‘victories’.

With regard to the SNP and Scottish independence, the issue of EU membership would likely be dealt with in the future, in same manner as the independence negotiations we were promised after a successful IndyRef1 campaign in 2014. The SNP leadership would have taken a ‘Yes’ vote as a mandate to form a Scottish negotiating team made up of SNP and Scottish unionists (Labour, Lib-Dem and Tory) on one side, facing a team of UK unionists on the other (whoever Cameron decided to put together ). Their aim was an ‘Indy-Lite’ deal under the Crown, the City of London, British High Command, EU bureaucracy and NATO – in other words a junior managerial buyout of the UK state in Scotland. They would also have drawn up the new constitution for a ‘Scottish Free State’.

In the unlikely event of an IndyRef2 under the present SNP leadership, their approach will be very similar. They would take any ‘Yes’ vote as a mandate to come to some deal with the rUK and the EU. But they would face great pressure from the UK state and might find themselves settling for something short of full EU membership. Their continued acceptance of the rUK, the City of London, sterling and the British High Command would make such compromise over EU membership more likely.

Today, socialists have one advantage compared to the IndyRef1 campaign. The SNP leadership is not guaranteed to form the leadership of any new campaign, given the unwillingness of the UK unionists to play ball. Even during IndyRef1 there was a large movement outside the direct control of the SNP leadership. This formed the basis for the May 2014 RIC national policy (pushed by the RCN and Edinburgh RIC) to call for a conference of all the local ‘Yes’ groups and various campaigns to mount a campaign for a constituent assembly in the event of the ‘Yes’ vote. Undoubtedly this would have led to a major battle with the SNP leadership. But even after the referendum defeat, they recognised this challenge, if they were to emerge as the uncontested leadership of Scottish independence politics. Much of the SNP leadership efforts over the next two years were devoted to trying to hoover up that autonomous movement, starting with the Nicola Sturgeon ‘coronation’ conference (12,000) next to the RIC conference (3000) in November 2014. I spent a lot of time highlighting this danger.

Today (as in Catalunya) any new independence campaign could well be led from outside the current SNP leadership. It will need to be (and very likely will be) much wider than during IndyRef1.This provides the basis for another campaign for a constituent assembly based on the recognition of the republican sovereignty of the people, rather than the SNP’s support for Holyrood’s devolved sovereignty of the Crown in Westminster. And the other thing that would differ is the nature of the SNP’s international appeal. The SNP are looking hopefully to the emergence of a new liberal unionist politics in England, to a sympathetic Democratic government in the USA (opposition to Trident could well be the next policy ditched to achieve this – Scoxiter/Brexiter, Jim Sillars has argued for this in the past), to Irish and Northern Irish governments uniting to push for Irish reunification, and to a sympathetic EU bureaucracy – and pigs might fly!

I don’t think any of these alliances are likely to come together, other than as a way of trying to stymie any successful republican internationalist challenge. So, a RIC Mark 2 should be pursuing its own ‘internationalism from below’ campaign, building on the best features of its IndyRef1campaign. This could only be done with active campaigning in the EU member countries (and beyond if possible). Between 2012-14 RIC members spoke at meetings and rallies in Catalunya, Euskadi, Quebec, Greece, Ireland (North and South), England and worked with Welsh campaigners too, and supported Palestinian and Kurdish self-determination in meetings and demonstrations.

And just as any future Scottish constitution should be left to a constituent assembly, so too should Scotland’s relationship with other states (including their EU treaty alliance). The closeness or otherwise should be determined first by these state’s and institution’s politics, and when it comes to any still necessary economic relationships, by the current balance of forces. I could see the possibilities in applying to join the European Economic Area, (what’s left of the old the old EFTA), which allows for the free movement of workers throughout the Schengen area. However, that would only be a holding position until Left internationalist forces became stronger, and more able to implement our own politics.

The Brexiteer Left is the least internationalist force in Europe. The Right populist Brexiteers have their own ‘internationalism’ – even closer links to the USA. The Far Right want a white, Christian, male dominated Europe (60,000 marched in Warsaw for this). The only people who have no international vision for the UK or for Europe are the Left Brexiteers. They no longer promote cross-European action. Some though now take comfort from the diplomatic ‘internationalism’ of their Left sect ‘internationals’ which are nevertheless falling apart – e.g. the CWI and IST. This is why RIC Mark 2 needs to be a republican internationalist coalition. The politics that would give this most coherence today would be the promotion of a federated, secular, democratic, social and environmentally sustainable European republic.

In comradeship,

for other articles see:-

1. Murdo Ritche – If Not Now – When?

2. Debate on the EU referendum – Eric Chester(RCN and IWW) and Allan Armstrong (RCN)

3. Debates and discussions on the E&L blog about theEU and Migration


5. Corbyn, Labour and the Tories’ Immigration Bill – A dialogue Allan Armstrong, Joe Healey (LUP) Jeffrey Lever (RSA), Robert Peston Phil Vellender, SueSparks (RSA), New Statesman, The Spectator

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