Mar 31 2020

Review of ‘Quines’ by Jim Aitken

We are posting this review by one of our contributors, Jim Aitken, of Quines, Poems in tribute to the women of Scotland, written by Gerda Stevenson (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerda_Stevenson). This review was first posted by Culture Matters. Accompanying illustrations of textiles are by artists from EDGE: Textile Artists Scotland.

 

A FEARLESS GAZE OF HOPE – ‘QUINES’

 

 

The second edition of Gerda Stevenson’s Quines came out with some fanfare as it was launched to coincide with International Women’s Day. The launch at the Central Library in Edinburgh was also accompanied by a unique exhibition in honour of some of the poems in the book by EDGE: Textile Artists Scotland.

The new front cover of this second edition arose out of the Scottish artist Helen Flockhart hearing Gerda read the poem The Abdication of Mary Queen of Scots – a poem in the book – on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. Helen’s painting was part of her own exhibition Linger Awhile based on the life of Scotland’s tragic queen in 2018-19. Gerda commended the ‘the creative sisterhood’ that came with the launch of the second edition of her poetry collection.

A quine, it should be said, is the Scots word for a girl and it is being used to name all the women featured in the book. The first edition came out in 2018 and was reprinted in 2019. The new second edition of 2020 has two new poems along with a new introduction and is currently being translated into Italian by Laura Manieri with a grant from Publishing Scotland. Quines is clearly a major work. It took Stevenson four years of research along with a few chance encounters that had entered her poetic imagination for this book to take shape.

 

Textile by Moira E. Dickson

 

The name Frances (Fanny) Wright is certainly one I was not familiar with. She was born in Dundee in 1795 and was very much a product of the Scottish Enlightenment despite that period not being particularly enlightened with regard to women. She was a writer, orator, feminist, abolitionist, champion of the rights of workers, a critic of the banks of her day and a critic of religious institutions. She spoke openly of the pleasures of sexual passion while also seeing marriage as a form of bondage, and campaigned for divorce, for birth control and for property rights for married women. She was also the first woman to edit a newspaper, The Free Enquirer.

She had gone to America and became a close friend of Walt Whitman who said ‘she was a brilliant woman…who was never satisfied unless she was busy doing good – public good, private good.’ She had also been admired by Mary Shelley and they were close friends. Mary Shelley had died before Fanny Wright and this enabled Stevenson to call her poem Fanny Wright Meditates on Mary Shelley’s Death.

As she laments her death she recalls her own life and mentions some of the terms that had been labelled against her – she was The Red Harlot of Liberty and The High Priestess of Infidelity. In her sadness for Mary she reflects on their achievements:

Those I’ve loved are gone, and now you too,
who held your mother’s torch, the flame that grew
with every step we took to forge a world
pledged to the common good…

These touching lines show the debt that women of this era had to the ‘torch’ that was Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of Mary Shelley. Her Vindication of the Rights of Women appeared in 1792, where Wollstonecraft sought to apply the egalitarian principles of the American and French revolutions to women.

 

 

Though the backwoodsman Walpole called her ‘a hyena in petticoats’ many modern feminists have returned to her hugely significant work for inspiration.

Stevenson had first come across Wright in Barbara Taylor’s Eve and the New Jerusalem (1983) and in Celia Eckhardt Morris’s biography Fanny Wright: Rebel in America (1984). While performing in New York in 2012 Stevenson visited the Walt Whitman Birthplace Historic Site at Long Island. On entering the building the first thing she noticed was a portrait of Fanny Wright placed between portraits of Whitman’s parents.

A year later, while working in Shetland, she had gone to Lerwick’s Shetland Museum and saw the reconstructed head of a young woman. There were, she says, ‘five thousand years between us’ in her Prologue poem Reconstructed Head of a Young Woman. She begins to imagine what this young woman’s life had been like, as she observed the hair that ‘falls like mine,’ the ‘salt-washed cheeks’ and her ‘fearless gaze of hope.’ By the time Gerda had landed back on the Scottish mainland she had written the poem of her encounter with the young Shetlandic woman.

Scotland’s Forgotten Women

We are often what we were before. The young woman in Lerwick Museum and all young women today hold much in common. They have shared hopes and dreams and know acutely what it means to be a woman. Like Fanny Wright the young woman with the reconstructed head had been forgotten about, relegated from history, their existences marginalised.

The encounter through a pane of glass in a museum has much in common with Seamus Heaney’s discovery of P.V. Glob’s The Bog People, first published in English in 1969. In this book Heaney discovered that the bodies that had been preserved in the bogs of Jutland and elsewhere in northern Europe gave him a much-needed metaphor to compare what was happening in Northern Ireland during the so-called Troubles.

 

 

Ritualised murders and scapegoating had taken place thousands of years ago and this enabled Heaney to relate this to the sectarian and community conflicts being waged in Northern Ireland, as the peaceful civil rights demonstrations began to be attacked and then descended into violence. Also, by referring to those ancient murders Heaney could allow his poetry – particularly his collection North (1975) – to rise above any partiality on his part and to universalize the horrors that were playing out in his own North at the time. Similarly, Stevenson could see the affinity she had with the young woman of Shetland in that, like her, she was female and part of what Simone de Beauvoir labelled The Second Sex (1949) in her ground-breaking study of women.

Visits to museums can crystallise ideas but what had to be done first was to do the background work, the reading and research into many of Scotland’s forgotten women. That research took four years and it was The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women (2006), reprinted in 2018, which Stevenson has said was ‘an invaluable resource.’

Quines brings together a diverse array of Scottish women – politicians, queens, a salt seller, a half-hanged woman, scientists, writers and artists, singers, a dancer, a fish-gutter and others. They are all remarkably well studied, vital individuals who, like the young woman of Shetland, had fearless gazes of hope for all women and indeed for all. They also had fearless voices and an innate determination to be heard and seen. While not all men have been able to do this in class-ridden societies throughout history, it has been doubly difficult for women. As James Connolly succinctly put it when he first saw the poor women of Dublin, calling them ‘the slaves of slaves.’

Further back, nearly three thousand years ago, Homer told us in The Odyssey that various groups of men had arrived at the home of Odysseus to hear if there was any news of his homecoming. His wife Penelope had been waiting for news herself and she is about to talk to the guests when her son Telemachus tells her –

Go back into your quarters and take up your work, on the loom…speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all; for mine is the power of this household.

At the outbreak of the First World War the British Government’s War Office had told Elsie Inglis and her Scottish Women’s Hospitals – ‘Good lady, go home and sit down.’ Clearly, there had been no change in attitude to women since the days of Telemachus. Stevenson gives Elsie her voice back in Elsie Inglis Prepares for her Last Journey in a sensitively written poem where Inglis, dying from cancer, considers the impact that she and her comrades of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals have made:

my women, saving lives, proved
what’s plain as day: that we are equal
daughters, sons, husbands, wives.

A Fearless Gaze of Hope

Mary Beard tells us in Woman and Power (2017) that in classical times women were not allowed to talk in public unless they dealt with their own sectional interests or their victimhood. Yet today when women do talk in public they are viciously abused, with women MPs receiving more vitriolic and obscene abuse than their male counterparts. And as for social media the most common comment directed at women is ‘Shut up, you bitch.’ Stevenson knows all this but both she and her book have simply sailed through these rough seas without even getting wet. Her book of Quines rises above such negativity with ‘a fearless gaze of hope’ and optimism.

This poetry collection also features women who were not born in Scotland but came from other countries to live here. Some of her quines, though Scottish by birth, had emigrated from Scotland. What is significant about this is that her only criteria for women being included in Quines is that those who were in Scotland and played their part here can be seen as Scottish, as Scottish as they ever wanted to be.

This chimes particularly well with the recent Scottish Independence Referendum of 2014. Eligibility to vote in that referendum was based simply on being in Scotland, living there and working there. This, of course, was in sharp contrast to the Brexit Referendum of 2016 that excluded EU citizens living and working in the UK. Gerda’s generosity with all those included in Quines seems to mirror the current mood of openness that is being shown to migrant workers in Scotland, as there is the recognition that the economic contribution they make to Scottish society is extremely valuable.

The three languages of Scotland are all represented, with Stevenson showing that she is as skilled in Scots as she is in English. She also uses Gaelic words and phrases in poems where her women have come from that culture or have been referred to by that culture. She takes a chronological approach to all her women placing them in their own times and in so doing she brings the rich tapestry of Scottish history to life with its incursions from Ireland, from Viking lands like Norway and from elsewhere.

Nessie, the Original Sexy Beast

The collection begins with Nessie, the Loch Ness monster, who is indisputably female. Stevenson does not even mention that according to Adomnan, in his life of St Columba, believed to be written between 697 -700, that it was the saint who was supposed to have tamed the monster. Nessie was clearly not for taming as her ‘fearless gaze’ seems to ‘strike terror in your hearts.’ Yet this monster is much more than a figure of fear. Her ‘paps slope with the grace of Jura.’ Gerda uses the Old Norse word ‘paps’ meaning ‘breasts’ and the Paps of Jura were named by Norse settlers to describe the look of the three mountains on that island. This word, it has to be said, has also been used by many a Scottish schoolboy directed at his female class-mates. Gerda, however, reclaims the word for Nessie and then describes her ‘nipples bright as fresh water pearls, sleek hips fit for tender cargo.’ In this description she cleverly creates for us the original sexy beast.

However, her Nessie, though clearly happy in her own skin, also has a mind ‘broad as your kyles.’ She has been around ‘long before the Romans named the Picts.’ She has seen our entire history and will continue to ‘elude your sonar probes and camera clicks.’ Nessie possesses depth and will only reveal herself when we ‘can see beyond the surface.’ This is a playful poem on one level but deeply serious on another.

 

Textile by Sue Fraser

In The Abdication of Mary Queen of Scots Stevenson informs us in the biographical note between the title and poem – a clever technique she uses throughout the collection – that Mary miscarried twins while imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle in 1567. Mary talks in Scots to her last lady-in-waiting, Mary Seton, who is tearful at her Queen losing her crown:

…..och, Mary, Mary Seton, last
o ma fower leal ladies, dinna waste yer tears 
on gien up a bitte gowd an glister, haud ma airm
if it helps, but dinna, dinna greet fur this.

These lines are among the most emotionally charged ones in the collection. Mary is saying that a bit of gold and glitter (‘bitte gowd an glister’) is nothing compared to the lives of the twins she lost. Mary offers Seton her arm – ‘haud ma airm’ – rather than Seton offering Mary comfort. The repetition of ‘dinna’ is written as an exhortation that masks the utter desolation she actually feels. These feelings of sadness and loss, however, are not for the loss of her crown but for the ‘twa bairns….twa scaps o heivin.’

Sugar, slavery and exploitation

The poem Demerara introduces us to Eliza Junor who was born in Demerara, now modern day Guyana, to Hugh Junor, a slave owner from the Black Isle, and an unknown mother who would have been a slave. Stevenson tries to imagine Eliza in her new land detecting the strange contradiction of where she now finds herself in ’the Black Isle of white people, where I’m glad no cane grows.’

Eliza had won a prize at Fortrose Academy for penmanship and Gerda cleverly uses the words of the ‘dominie’s wife’ (teacher’s wife) telling Eliza about all the other ‘tawny’ types like her who are appearing in Cromarty, Tain and Inverness. The teacher’s wife was pouring tea and when Eliza declines any sugar the wife exclaims: ‘But it’s Demerara…It’ll make you feel at home.’ Declining sugar is perfectly understandable for Eliza since it conjures up the horrors of the slavery that went into its production. Eliza watches ‘the gold beads…melt in the peat-brown pool’ of the cup.

This poem is incredibly important, because it deals with Scotland’s role in the slave trade. It is only in the last fifteen years that any serious academic research has gone into the role played by Scots in that ghastly trade. In one of Walter Scott’s novels, Rob Roy (1817), there is a passage that shows how there was a refusal to adequately admit to that role:

When the cloth was removed, Mr Jarvie compounded with his own hands a very small bowl of brandy-punch, the first which I had ever the fortune to see. ‘The limes,’ he assured us, ‘were from his own little farm yonder-awa’ (indicating the West Indies with a knowing shrug of his shoulders).

What happened ‘yonder awa’ was brutal exploitation, and it should be remembered that Scotland’s greatest poet Robert Burns had at one time seriously considered becoming ‘a negro driver’ in Jamaica. Stevenson’s poem also mentions several Highland place names – Cromarty, Tain and Inverness – and these places seem at odds with the narrative that Scots have often nurtured about the brutality they suffered during the Highland Clearances when houses were burned and people forced to emigrate in large numbers to make way for the more profitable sheep that came with Union. While that episode can never be ignored, these place names in the poem show that many Scots, as well as being oppressed, were in fact oppressors themselves.

 

In Reconsidering Scotland’s Slavery Past (2015) Tom Devine brought together various academics to seriously look at Scotland’s role in the slave trade associated with the Caribbean. Scots had been numerous in Demerara. The slaves, it was said, called prawns ‘Scotsmen’ not because their skin turned pink in the sun but because they all stuck together. Herring caught in the North Sea had been mixed with oats to provide meals for the slaves, and the canvas clothes they wore had also been manufactured in Scotland and sent out to Demerara. Slavery had a massive economic impact beyond institutionalising free labour.

This is uncomfortable history but it is a history that has to be told. David Hayman brought out the TV programmes Slavery: Scotland’s Hidden Shame for BBC Scotland in 2018 and these programmes explored those uncomfortable truths particularly well. However, that was what Union was all about. Union with England was an imperial construct whereby Scotland gained access to England’s ‘overseas markets.’ – its colonies. Along with imperialism abroad there was the spin-off from industry at home as goods from those markets came back here to be manufactured.

The arch-imperialist Cecil Rhodes summed it up quite aptly when he said: ‘To avoid civil war at home, we must become imperialists abroad.’ He recognised the class divide and saw in Empire, with its crumbs thrown at the working classes, the solution to the maintenance of that divide. Today, however, with empire gone and large-scale industry also gone, the Union is decidedly shaky. All that seems to remain of that imperialist legacy are the awful ditties like Rule Britannia (1740) and Land of Hope and Glory (1901). The national anthem God Save the Queen is also part of this imperialist legacy. These songs seek merely to perpetuate the national notions of former greatness.

So it was ludicrous to listen to Rees-Mogg and Widdicombe saying that they wanted Britain to break free from ‘the imperial yoke of the EU’ as if Britain had become enslaved, when it was Britain that had developed and sustained slavery on an industrial scale.

 

Demerara has much in common with Hamish Henderson’s famous song Freedom Come All Ye (1960). Henderson’s song not only mentions the republican-socialist John MacLean but is in essence an internationalist song that urges Scotland to have nothing more to do with the British imperial construct that plunders abroad. Stevenson’s sympathies are similarly with Eliza Junor who is equally opposed to the imperial plunder abroad that makes her refuse the sugar in her tea. Her quine Eliza, therefore, has much in common with Henderson’s ‘black boy frae yont Nyanga’ in his stirring song.

Helen Crawfurd and liberation theology

John MacLean – who formed Scotland’s first pro-independence party, the Scottish Workers Republican Party in 1923 – and the Edinburgh-born James Connolly are both mentioned in the Quines poem Helen Crawfurd’s Memoirs in Seven Chapters. Crawfurd was a suffragette, a Red Clydesider, one of the founders of the Women’s Peace Crusade during World War 1 and a founding member of the CPGB. She had been involved in the window-smashing in one of the suffragette direct actions in London, and also planted a bomb in Glasgow’s Botanic Gardens. She had also sneaked into Moscow to meet Lenin and Krupskaya, Lenin’s wife, after the Russian Revolution. She had become the Secretary of the Workers Relief Organisation, working in the Highlands and in Donegal with Constance Markiewicz as well as supplying relief and support to miners during the General Strike of 1926.

 

 

Crawfurd married ‘a man of the cloth, threefold my age’ and as a minister’s wife she would have visited the houses of the impoverished parishioners in the Anderston district of Glasgow, and seen the ‘bow-legged bairns’ in those houses suffering from malnourishment. This experience had radicalised her.

Like a number of Stevenson’s ‘Quines’ Crawfurd had been religious, but like them – particularly Mary Slessor in Mary Slessor Takes St Paul to Task – she questioned the prevailing theologies and religious orthodoxies of her time. Crawfurd’s reverend husband had preached ‘care’ while Crawfurd said she took:

…St. John to heart:
may his truth be known that we must love
the brother we have seen as much as 
God we have not seen, or else we lie.

Crawfurd’s Christ ‘could be militant…he whipped the moneylenders from the temple.’ Like Slessor before her Crawfurd was a liberation theologian before the advent of liberation theology proper in the second half of the 20th century.

 

Textile by Yvonne Tweedie

Along with Mary Barbour and her army of women who fought the rogue landlords who increased rents while their men were fighting in the hell of the trenches, Crawfurd had joined the working-class women fighting the bailiffs. They would be pelted with bags of flour and with less savoury substances too. These women also joined ‘forces with MacLean’ in opposing the war. The war broke Keir Hardie’s heart, and Crawfurd castigated Christabel Pankhurst for supporting it: ‘Shame on you, I cry.’

Once dubbed ‘Queen of the Mob’, Miss Pankhurst has ‘changed her tune’ as she is:

…enlisting men, pinning their guilt with white feathers
stolen from our dove, impressing women to munitions,
Britannia’s clarion call stoking Europe’s fire
and denying equal pay…

All the indignation of the working-class women in Glasgow and beyond is found in these lines. Women made placards and placed them on their window sills at home looking out to the streets, reading ‘RENT STRIKE WE ARE NOT REMOVING.’ Like most oppressed people who come together in solidarity to fight injustice, these women won their heroic struggle as the Rent Restriction Act of 1915 made it illegal for landlords to increase rents while this war was being fought.

 

Lift the Have-Nots From Obscurity

Helen Crawfurd and Mary Barbour had on occasion visited the Fife home of young Jennie Lee to meet with her parents. Lee went on to become a Labour MP and created the Open University which, along with the NHS – valiantly dealing with the coronavirus at present – and the welfare state, were among the best and most progressive achievements of the Labour Party.

In I am Jennie Lee’s Open University Stevenson imagines that entity itself speaking in praise of its conception. Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895) was one of Lee’s formative books when she was a student because Jude was denied the opportunity to go to university because of his social class. What Lee sought to do with the ‘wee bastard’ that was the White Paper she brought to the Commons was to:

…..lift the have-nots from obscurity
by releasing knowledge like caged birds into the open air.

Knowledge has always been power, and without it the powerless remain powerless.

Stevenson uses so many ingenious voices for her poems. If the actual character herself is not doing the speaking it is someone else – a couple of times Stevenson herself – or something associated with that character. It is a challenging task to do all the necessary research for Quines, and another challenge altogether then to write the actual poems. Stevenson’s method, she has said, is in ‘finding a hook’ with which to write the poem. This is where all the invention with voice, with who speaks, comes in. These are the actual hooks for her poems.

So for example, in At Miss Eardley’s it is the street children of Glasgow’s Townhead district who give the poem its collective voice. The children would go into ‘the big room at Miss Eardley’s’ where the artist Joan Eardley would paint. She would paint these children or sometimes she would be ‘drawin us wi sticks o chalk on sandpaper.’

 

Street Kids, by Joan Eardley, 1949

Eardley is recognised as one of Scotland’s premier artists and the fact that she was born in West Sussex seems totally irrelevant. She lived and worked in Scotland and Scotland has claimed her as her own. Interestingly, in Catterline in Winter Stevenson wrote of Eardley’s painting of that name in her first poetry collection If This Were Real (2013). In this poem she writes in English of the area Eardley also lived and worked in on the north-east coast of Scotland. Stevenson observes in Eardley’s painting how:

The homes are sledging
down the hill
in the blind gaze
of a pandrop moon.

This is an image in words every bit as good as the actual painting. The artist and the poet are viewing the same scene and seeing it in complementary ways.

One final poem – there are over 60 in the collection – that again shows Stevenson’s creative resourcefulness with voice is The Living Mountain as it ‘Addresses a £5 Banknote.’ Less than half an hour’s journey from Catterline, the writer Nan Shepherd was born in Peterculter in 1893. The Living Mountain is in fact the Cairngorms where Shepherd would often walk. She wrote of her walks there in The Living Mountain in 1941 although the book was not published until 1977. Shepherd had been environmentally aware long before the rest of us were panicked into concern.

The Cairngorms speak to Shepherd as her image now adorns a Royal Bank of Scotland £5 note brought out in her honour. Like Shepherd the mountain loathes litter:

I dislike litter, especially your kind-polymer particles
that issue in blizzards from careless markets, slip
from pockets, won’t perish in rain or melt with snow.

The Living Mountain does, however, make an exception in the case of Shepherd because she was:

…the woman who never rushed
to my summits, but walked into me, took time to learn
my every line – schist, gneiss, granite – and heard
my braided voice.

Quines is a book of voices, a book of radical women’s voices. It is a celebration as much as a tribute to women, achieved by incredible skill and a great deal of hard work.

Gerda Stevenson has brought all her other artistic selves – as singer, songwriter, actor, dramatist, director – to aid her in this collection. The poems all possess an air of theatricality about them, as woman after woman takes to the stage to tell her tale and celebrate her life. Quines is a triumph of voice as much as Beckett’s characters keep talking freely because women, denied the chance to speak in public for so long, say whatever they want here. And, of course, they are all well worth listening to and learning from.

Gerda’s language is rich, bold and, at times, playful. Her forms for her poems are inventive – there are haikus and villanelles here – and each poem is thoroughly thought through before it is presented on the page. Her voice demands to be heard, like the voices of the women who have now become part of her. She has much in common with two of these women in particular – Kantha Sari Heirloom and Tessa Ransford – because like them she is also a cultural activist. Quines is as much a product of cultural activism as it is the product of an artistic intelligence.

All the women in Quines look at us today with their ‘fearless gazes of hope’; their voices demanding better from a world that stupidly thought it could oppress, relegate or distance them from life and from the heady matters of the world. Maya Angelou would have called these Quines ‘phenomenal women’ and would have hailed Gerda Stevenson’s achievement too as phenomenal. Quines is a radical collection written by the radical poetic intellect that is the bonnie fechter (intrepid fighter) herself, Gerda Stevenson.

The bonnie fechter herself……

Quines: Poems in Tribute to Women of Scotland, by Gerda Stevenson is available from

Luath Press at £9.99

This was first posted by Culture Matters at

http://www.culturematters.org.uk/index.php/arts/poetry/item/3292-a-fearless-gaze-of-hope-quines-by-gerda-stevenson

 

__________

also see:-

http://republicancommunist.org/blog/tag/author-jim-aitken/

 

Mary McGregor reviews ‘The Last Calendar of Events’ by Jim Aitken

Lyrical Delicacy and Political Toughness

and

THE CREATIVE ECONOMY? – TOWARDS A CULTURE OF POSSIBILITY

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Jan 25 2019

ANOTHER EUROPE IS POSSIBLE CONFERENCE, 10.12.18, LONDON

 

Allan Armstrong, who attended the ‘Another Europe Is Possible’ conference in London, as a representative from the Campaign for European Republican Socialist Party, makes his political assessment of the event.

ANOTHER EUROPE IS POSSIBLE CONFERENCE, 10.12.18, LONDON

 

The Left in the UK has not only been hopelessly divided over Brexit, but marginal to Leave/Remain politics. When Brexit is the all-dominant political issue of the day, that is an indication of the Left’s failure. Leave politics have been left in the hands of the Tory Right, the national populist UKIP, DUP, other Loyalists, and the far right BNP, EDL, SDL and WDL on the Brexit side; and Remain in the hands of the neo-liberal Conservatives, Labour Right and Lib-Dems and the constitutional nationalist, SNP, Plaid Cymru, Sinn Fein and SDLP on the other.

For the most part, Left Leavers and Left Remainers have preferred to slag each other off online, or in their respective journals. Until recently, neither Left Leavers/Lexiters  [1] nor Left Remainers made any real attempt to take their argument on to the streets. This despite the fact that the Lexiters in the UK outside the Labour Party (with the ageing Left Brexiter CPB still retaining some influence upon the trade union bureaucracy), with  the SWP having a record of being able to mobilise large numbers in the earlier anti-war and anti-G8 protests.

The Lexiters got the Leave vote they wanted, but not in the areas they had mainly raised the issue – London and some university cities. These delivered a Remain vote! The Socialist Workers Party  and the Socialist Party both claim to be part of internationals, but the very British nature of their Lexit ‘campaign’ was underlined by their failure to bring over any comrades from elsewhere in Europe to tour the country to put an ‘internationalist’ case for Lexit.  Perhaps they did realise that  this would be rather difficult, However, that former darling of the Left, the ever self-promoting, Left British populist George Galloway, was never burdened by any such international pretensions, and characteristically threw himself into he arms of Nigel Farage’s and ‘Grassroots Leave’  along with  Labour Right populist, Kate Hoey. This was a step too far for many Lexiters, but it got Galloway the publicity he craved, whereas few people outside the Left came into contact with the Lexiters.

But there was a brief period following the Brexit vote, when UKIP imploded and the Tories were caught up in internal battles. This was supposed to be the situation, Lexiters had anticipated, which would represent a major victory for the working class and a decisive defeat for the British ruling class. To the Left Brexiters  and the Lexiters, the further Right in UKIP was seen to be of little wider political significance, but acted as a conduit for working class protest votes. So once Cameron was defeated and UKIP rendered irrelevant, the Left could breakthrough into the political space left by a shattered Tory party.

Theoretically, the Lexiters should have celebrated ‘their victory’ on June 23rd 2016 and organised demonstrations on the streets, in a move to take the political lead of the Brexit campaign. But they had never really attempted to relate politically to Brexit voters in areas that were to vote to Leave. And, they had made little attempt to relate to those migrant workers also living in these areas, who were always going to be amongst the first victims of any Brexit vote. That would have sent a mixed message to the majority of potential Brexit voters.

So any non-racist Brexit voters living in the Leave voting areas remained passive, leaving the Right Brexiters  the Tory Right’s official ‘Vote Leave’ and Farage’s unofficial ‘Grassroots Out’ unchallenged. Despite their differences, these two campaigns worked in a symbiotic relationship, driving the political agenda further to the Right. This was quite inevitable given the political origins of the Brexit campaign on the Right, and the rampant British chauvinism it always promoted. Given the balance of forces, Left Brexiters and Lexiters could only ever have contributed to the Right’s victory. This was the experience of  not only the  Left unionist  Red Paper Collective, the Left populist, ‘Just Say Naw’, George Galloway but also  the liberal unionist, Gordon Brown, after they joined the wider British unionist alliance to oppose Scottish independence between 2012-14.

Brexit, with its powerful Right wing backers, was associated in most people’s minds – Leavers and Remainers – with ‘Take back control’ – strengthening the UK state and cutting back on immigration. And these were the two key issues pushed by the very well-financed Brexit campaigns. And the Leave vote certainly boosted those political forces throughout the UK that are openly British chauvinist and/or racist. The deaths of Jo Cox MP, Arek Jozwik and Dagmara Przybysz highlighted this, as anti-migrant sentiment soared.

But so thrown were the Lexiters that they had not considered that David Cameron’s ‘defeated’ Tories, would be able to reconstitute themselves as Theresa May’s ‘No Deal is Better than a Bad Deal’ Tories.  All the political initiative with regard to Brexit came from even further Right. But the Lexiters did realise, at least subconsciously, following the Leave vote, that if they had organised any demos, the sort of people who would most likely turn up were not likely to be attracted to the Left’s politics! Therefore, once more, they kept their Lexit ‘campaign’ off the streets, and confined their activities over this issue to a continuous litany of ‘EU-bad’ articles in their journals or at Left events.

After the Lexiters’  abandonment of their  cheer-leading for Leave, they turned instead to campaigning against austerity and standing up to racism (just ignoring the Brexiteers’ role in contributing to the well-documented spike in racism). And once official politics were reconfigured, under the revamped Conservative Party, the non-Labour Brexit Left – the Lexiters – became even more marginal. Therefore, it was Farage’s national populist supporters and the various elements of the Far Right, including Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (Tommy Robinson), which took to the streets again. Lexiters made themselves scarce as Lexiters, reappearing instead as anti-racists, but now forced to confront significantly larger street mobilisations of the Far Right, strengthened by the Brexit vote.

However, the unexpected rise of Jeremy Corbyn, and the surge in Labour Party membership,  provided a new lifeline for the Lexiters. Corbyn declared his intention to honour the Brexit vote, and gathered around him an inner clique of long time Left Europhobes, e,g. Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray from an old CBGB/CPB background,  Len McCluskey, UNITE general secretary and Karie Murphy, his close ally. But Corbyn and Corbyn supporting MPs also joined the Right of the Labour Party, in dropping any commitment to retaining the free movement of workers within the EU. Thus they provided cover for one of the central aims of the Right Brexiters, which was to ditch such free movement, and replace it with a version of the former  German gastarbeiter system, underpinned by the draconian 2014 and 2016 Immigration Acts. The Lexiters downplayed the British chauvinism and more shame-faced racism of the Labour Left Brexiters, with their “non-racist immigration” controls. “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” was taken up by many on the British Left beyond the recent Labour Left intake.

Corbyn’s now pro-Brexit call to respect the ‘democracy’ of the referendum also accepted the anti-democratic exclusion of EU residents and 16-18 year olds, despite such an electoral precedent having been established by the same Cameron Tory government, over the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. And the first suspicions were soon raised that the Brexit campaign had broken the official electoral finance rules, and resorted to ‘dark money’ channelled from the hard Right in the USA  through the UK’s offshore tax havens.[2] However, for Corbyn and his immediate pro-Brexit Left Labour coterie, a cheap appeal to the populist faux-democracy of the Right overrode any championing of genuine democracy.

In the old years of New Labour supremacy, when the Blairite machine controlled the official party, a few Labour Left MPs, like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, sometimes had to defy the party leadership’s voting instructions at Westminster, in order to oppose the Tories. However, following the Brexit vote, it has been Jeremy Corbyn and his political machine that has been locked into wheeling and dealing with May’s Tories, over a possible Brexit deal.  All the Corbyn supporting MPs joined with Centre and many Right Labour MPs, and the DUP MPs, to vote with May’s Tories in initiating Section 50 withdrawal from the EU on January  31st 2017. But in a turning of the tables, 49 Right and some Centre Labour MPs joined the last Europhile Conservative, Ken Clarke, the Lib-Dems, the Greens’ Caroline Lucas, the SNP and Plaid Cymru to vote against the Tories’ dash for Brexit.

Furthermore, May had offered no coherent negotiating stance, just a series of ‘red lines’ to placate the further Right. So, in the absence of any Labour alternative, the effect of 498/114 Westminster Section 50 vote was to move politics towards a considerably harder Brexit. From this point on, Labour’s lack of any effective opposition strengthened May’s position (also buttressed by the state’s bureaucratic Crown Powers), with the main opposition coming from the even further Right, centred round Boris Johnson, William Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group (ERG) and the DUP.

Yet, despite this ominous turn, May’s apparent setback, when she called a general election in June 2017, caused much celebration on the British Left.  But Corbyn’s unexpectedly good-showing (he started from a very low base of expectation after the drubbing Labour received in the May 2017 local elections in England) disguised the nature of Labour’s electoral gains. Most Westminster seats were won in strong Remain areas, whilst Labour lost seven long-held seats in Leave voting areas to the Tories.

Since then, the overriding priority of Corbyn and his closest allies has been for Labour to win the next general election. For them this means bending over backwards to accommodate the Right in the Labour Party in the name of party unity. On abandoning the free movement of labour within the EU, they were already united.  Now, though to further placate the Right, Corbyn and his allies have bowed before the bogus ‘anti-semitism’ (in reality pro-apartheid Israel) campaign and have opposed mandatory reselection of Westminster candidates. The Tory Right is likely to be far less accommodating to the shrinking band of Remainers in their ranks. The Tories are seeking greater ideological coherence around a considerably more Right wing platform, and any Tory Remainers can either fall into line or just get lost. The Tory Right understand that having only paper party unity undermines their longer term political aims, and whatever unseemly blood-letting is required to achieve unity around a new further Right politics is a cost worth paying.

The Tories weren’t even fazed by the apparent set-back in the 2017 Westminster election. Far from back-pedalling and falling back on some softer Brexit (but still one which would have allowed them to introduce a new gastarbeiter system of migrant control), they lined up with the even more Right wing, national populist and reactionary unionist, Ulster-British, DUP. For, one of the first jobs to be done under ‘taking back control’ was to strengthen the Union. May brought back the old Conservative and Unionist Party label, in a further Right attempt to roll back the democratic challenge to the UK state signalled by the unexpectedly large Scottish independence vote on September 14th, 2014. Back then, within hours of the ‘No’ vote, Cameron had ditched his liberal unionist Scottish Labour cover in ‘Better Together’, provided by Labour, in particular, Gordon Brown, and begun the Tories’ own reactionary unionist counter-offensive. This was signalled by his announcement of ‘English Votes for English Laws’ designed to woo the Tory Right and UKIP.

This was done to prepare the grounds for an in-house Tory debate between the increasingly Eurosceptic Remainer and Europhobe Leaver wings of the party. Unfortunately for Cameron, in June 2016, it was the further Right who won out this time. His latest version of ‘Project Fear, first directed at those seeking Scottish independence, made so many concessions to the Right Brexiters , particularly with regard to immigration, that it was the their  ‘Project Hate’ which won out the second time. And, if Corbyn hoped that by accepting the ‘democratic will’ of the 2016 vote, he would undercut the Tories, he was soon to be disillusioned. Theresa May and Sajid Javid, amongst many other Tories, also flipped from Remain to Brexit, and , in the process, helped the hard Brexiteers push politics considerably further to the Right than a hapless Corbyn had ever envisaged, Now it was  ‘No Deal is Better than  a Bad Deal”.  Brexiters had never mentioned  ‘No Deal’ in the referendum campaign. Corbyn, by giving the anti-democratic 2016 referendum legitimacy, found that the the content of what that ‘democratic’ referendum vote meant became more and more defined by the hard Right – ‘Leave Means Leave’, and that also meant whatever they said it meant. Thus since 2016, Corbyn has been used and duped by the Tories, just as Brown was in 2o14.

Whilst  the Tory Party was reuniting around a further Right platform, Corbyn and his closest advisors fell back on the one thing they had learned from New Labour spin doctors – the ‘black arts’ of political triangulation. These were particularly appealing to Corbyn’s close coterie of Brexiters. They calculated that sitting on the fence over Leave/Remain was the best way of holding on to the new Labour intake, mainly young Remainers. Yet many of these new members began to see that such fence sitting just permitted May, now in alliance with the DUP, to preside over a continuous Rightwards shift in the government’s Brexit stance. This has pushed some Left Remainers in the Labour Party towards the sharper Remain  stance of the Green Party, whilst other new less politically aware Labour voters, following  the more established neo-Blairites, have turned to the Lib-Dem Remainers. This is a consequence of Corbyn leaving  May, Johnston and Rees-Mogg largely unchallenged over Brexit, and the once unheard of prospect of ‘No Deal’ became a  possibility.

Eventually, the disparity between the minority of Left Brexit supporters in the Labour party, no matter how well entrenched within Corbyn’s ‘inner cabal,’ and the new largely Left Remain supporters, was bound to make its weight felt within the party. And so it proved at the September 2018 Labour conference. An even messier position was adopted to hold together all the factions of the Labour Party for the next general election they sought above all else. This stitch-up had to accommodate UKIP-‘Lite’ (e.g. Tom Harris), ‘Left’ Brexiter (e.g. Milne and McCluskey) and Brexit voter-accommodating Leavers (e.g. Corbyn and McDonnell) on one side, and the neo-liberal Right (Chuka Umanna and Sir Keith Starmer) and the new Left Remainers (still without a prominent advocate) on the other.

Left Remainers were not satisfied. Many knew full well that the Labour Right ‘s Eurosceptic Remainers are as opposed to full free movement of workers from the EU as any Labour Brexiter. They also appreciated that the Labour Right, neo-liberal Remainers want a return to the full Blairite control of the party, where policy-making is for ‘neutral’ experts tested out first on non-party focus groups, whilst members take their orders, pay their dues and knock on doors at election time. So some Left Remainers began to organise. They revived a campaign, which had originally been launched in The Guardian, in the run-up to the 2016 Euro-referendum – ‘Another Europe Is Possible’ (AEiP). Consciously, or unconsciously, AEiP had adopted a key slogan of the Radical Independence Campaign from the 2014 Scottish IndyRef – ‘Another Scotland is Possible’, ‘Another Europe is Possible’, ‘Another World is Possible’.

However, as in the February 2017 vote to initiate Section 50, it was the Labour Right who first turned to the tactic of the old much diminished Labour Left in the years of Blair and Browns’ New Labour supremacy – defy the party leadership. And they planned to take to the streets! They backed a ‘Peoples Vote’ march on London on October 6th 2018.  This united  those wanting to rerun the 2016 EU referendum, and those wanting a ratification referendum on any May deal. As well as Labour Right and Centre, Chuka Umunna and Sadiq Khan, the ‘Peoples Vote’ platform included the Lib-Dem’s, Vince Cable, supplemented to right by the Conservative’s Anna Soubry and to the left by the Greens’ Caroline Lucas and by the constitutional nationalist SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon (via videolink).

The carnival-like atmosphere and the composition of the 700,000 marchers, who attended the October 6th demo, were in many ways like the earlier anti-Trump demos. However, the ‘Peoples Vote’ platform was more like that of the 2005 ‘Make Poverty History’ demo in Edinburgh, coinciding with the Gleneagles G8 conference – it was politically liberal. It was appealing to ‘our’ British ruling class to show some moral purpose and see sense. The anti-Brexit platform party wants the British ruling class to abandon the path chosen by the increasingly Right Brexiteers, and return to the ‘good old days’ of  ‘peace and prosperity’ within the EU. Their nostalgic vision shared the myopia of the Brexiteers, who instead invoked Empire2 on the Right and the long-gone ‘Spirit of 45’  (thank you, Thatcher, Major, Blair and Brown!) on the Left.

The huge ‘People’s Vote’ march coincided with Nigel Farage’s ‘Leave Means Leave’ rally in Harrogate. 1200 people attended this march, a number that should surely not have daunted any Lexiters who wanted to put across their ‘alternative’ to the public. But they continued to refuse any public demonstration of their Brexit ‘vision’, which it has to be admitted is decidedly murky anyhow! Instead they now mainly confine themselves to urging Corbyn and Labour to stick firm on Brexit. They are reassured by Corbyn’s inner coterie of Brexiters. They certainly do not oppose this group’s bureaucratic methods of stifling genuine debate, many of which they also share, in their own much smaller political organisations.

However, on the October 6th demo, just as there had been a significant independent, red-shirted, Left contingent on the 2005 ‘Make Poverty History’, so there was organised Left contingent on the ‘Peoples Vote’ demo in London. In Edinburgh they had mobilised around ‘Make Capitalism History’ banner. In London they mobilised around the ‘Another Europe Is Possible’ banner.

The success of the October 6th demo, spurred the AEiP organisers of to prepare for a conference in London on December 10th. However, both in the lead up to, and on the day of the conference, it became obvious that they were really more interested in organising a ‘Love Corbyn/Hate Brexit’ campaign, confined to the Labour Party in England. Yet key AEiP organisers were already aware of the distinctive political situation in Scotland following their visit to Glasgow in August.[3] The Campaign for a European Socialist Republican Party (CfaESRP) suggested that the December 10th event should address the distinctive anti-Brexit situations in Scotland, Wales, and especially Ireland the better to unite the Left opposition to Brexit on an ‘internationalism from below’ basis and counter the reactionary unionist wing of the British ruling class’s own all-UK and indeed all-islands strategy. After an initial promise to do so, the AEiP organisers dropped the CfaESR proposal without an adequate explanation.

The Labour Party is not at the centre of anti-neo-liberal, anti-Brexit politics in Scotland or Wales, and doesn’t even officially exist in Northern Ireland. However, the AEiP organisers thought that Scotland and Wales could now be addressed by a mere rewording – using the word ‘Britain’ to disguise the lack of any political perspective beyond England. And they seemed to be oblivious to the existence of the UK state, which also incorporates Northern Ireland. The fact that the Borders Communities Against Brexit is the most broadly based anti-Brexit campaign in the UK and these islands, and the ‘Irish backstop’ has proved to be the most controversial issue around Brexit, seemed to be of even less concern to the British Left AEiP organisers than it is to the Jacob Rees Mogg’s, Brit Right European Research Group, although even they recognise the issue but pretend to see the ‘backstop’ as only a technical problem.

The sad thing is that the Right has a more coherent vision of their future, and how to organise in the constituent parts of the UK, than the British Left. The national populist UKIP, when it was still a significant political force, was united around a reactionary British unionist vision, and organised and was politically represented in all four constituent parts of the UK. Whilst the Tory Right supplement their UK-wide Westminster Brexit strategy, with the activities of their Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Secretaries, the Tory leaders in Scotland and Wales, and the DUP at Westminster and from the suspended Stormont.

Another opportunity was presented when the AEiP organisers sent out their draft Strategy Paper for the conference. The CfaESRP submitted three sets of proposals (see the Strategy paper and suggested Amendments in the Appendix). The first situated Brexit in the context of the global drift to Right national populist politics, highlighted by Donald Trump’s ‘Brexit, plus, plus, plus’ US presidential victory. This oversight by the Strategy Paper drafters was recognised and the CfaESRP amendments covering this were accepted without debate.

But when it came to the series of AEiP amendments addressing the different situations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland/Ireland, and the dangers of a strengthened UK state and the rise in British chauvinism, these were all rejected in favour of maintaining a conscious British Left orientation. This, in practice, accepts the existing UK state (or at least the Great British part of it) as a viable  political framework, and is also largely confined to England and the Labour Party (albeit with a brief nod to the Green Party of England and Wales). For the conference organisers, appeals to  ‘Love Jeremy/Hate Brexit’ sentiment seemed to override meaningful strategic thinking.

No attempt was made to justify this politically. The chair just rushed through the proceedings, seeing the CFaESRP amendments as a distraction, which were holding things up. The amendment movers were given so little time, that very few in the conference with their British Left background, could appreciate the issues being raised. If the issues had been properly considered, with a prior educational session as requested, and more time for debate been allotted, many might have voted differently  Some more questioning and more curious people  came up to the CfaESRP speakers after the conference. After discussion, they began to see what the issues really were.

However there was also a number of intransigent Brit Left ultra-unionists at the conference. But they  soon realised  that they could depend on the rushed nature of the Strategy Paper debate, so they refrained from opening up the brief discussion allotted over the nature of the UK state, British chauvinism and the different political situations in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Andrew Coates left it to third CfESRP set of amendments, which addressed the still semi-Francoist, Spanish unionist state suppression of the right of Catalans to national self-determination, following the Catalan Republic referendum on October 1st 2017. He made  a contribution, which sounded much like that of a Vox supporter, in his diatribes against Catalan politicians. No chance being given for a reply and  he persuaded the conference not to accept the amendment. Coates just accepts the idea of the EU as a treaty alliance of existing states, which includes imperialist and unionist states, just as he accepts the UK state as forming an adequate basis for advancing his Left social democratic politics. You got the distinct impression that his speech in support of the Spanish monarchist union was a surrogate for the speech he night have preferred to have made earlier to support a strengthened UK and British union.

Although the CfaESRP proposal for a prior workshop on ‘Britain’/UK had been rejected, three other simultaneous workshops had been agreed to, prior to the Strategy Paper debates. One of these was entitled ‘Understanding Lexit: what is happening to the British Left?’ Here the shortcomings of the anti-Brexit, Brit Left were highlighted. A significant contribution was made by an Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) speaker. How was Corbyn’s pro-Brexit stance to be explained to so many admirers, dressed up in their ‘Love Corbyn/Hate Brexit’ T-shirts? He put it all down to the influence of Corbyn’s inner clique of “stalinist” supporters – e.g. Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray, formerly of the CPB – who had long subscribed to the ‘British road to socialism’.

However, the AWL  also adhere to their own British social unionist politics over Ireland and Scotland (and social imperialist politics elsewhere – Israel, Afghanistan and Iraq). The ‘British road to socialism’ is not just some Stalinist import, but has been hardwired into the British Labour Party from the days of Keir Hardie, and amongst British Marxists from the days of Henry Hyndman  – as has support for British imperialism. And the AWL’s own Momentum blog cheerfully adopts the name Clarion. This was the name of the very English/British socialist paper produced by Robert Blatchford in the early twentieth century. He wrote England for the English, later republished as Britain for the British, and supported the Boer and First World wars. So the AWL is even more firmly esconsed on the ‘British road to socialism’ than the old CPGB/CPB!

Worse still, in the AWL’s current apologetics for the Israeli state and the Zionist-backed, Right onslaught on Corbyn supporters (to which ironically some of their own members and ex-members have fallen prey to), has contributed, in their own small way, to an opening for the Far Right. Yaxley-Lennon and Katie Hopkins see Israel’s new Jewish supremacist Nationality Law (June 2018) as the precedent they want for a British supremacist nationality law for the UK. If the CPB’s politics open the door to some decidedly unsavoury Red/Brown alliances (with Putin’s Russia Today operating as a significant media coordinator), the same can be said for the AWL. Only they look to different Left/Right alliances.

But the social unionist (and imperialist), Brit Left politics of the AWL and some on the Labour Left did not dominate the conference. Socialist Resistance (SR) and the now much depleted Left Unity Party (LUP) were also there in some numbers. However, they only reacted strongly to a social unionist amendment from Liam McNulty (ex-AWL) in the Strategy Paper to provide defence for the non-existent British-Irish (these are the unionists who call themselves either ‘Ulster’- British or Northern Ireland British). This provoked Joe Healy (LUP) to oppose and he was successful in this.  But, when it came to the other debates, in which SR and some LUP members probably personally agreed with many of the CfaERSP amendments, they remained silent. The key thing was to keep the ‘Love Corbyn/Hate Brexit’ roadshow going. Unfortunately, SR and the LUP have a record of prevaricating when clear political decisions are required. This was shown during the Scottish Independence referendum campaign. Such thinking contributes towards British Left’s inability to see the continuity between the British ruling class’s reactionary unionist offensive after September 18th, 2014 and the Right Brexit offensive straight afterwards, and the key role Northern Ireland/Ireland and Scotland has played in this.

There were some positive aspects to the conference, including a speaker from the European Left  – Marina Prentoulis from Greece, and Emiliano Mellino, a migrant worker involved in the IWGB. He emphasised the importance of the still remaining EU laws underpinning workers’ rights. The IWGB had been able to fall back on these successfully when defending migrant worker’s cases dismissed in the UK courts.

Therefore it was a great pity that AEiP could not constitute itself as an all-islands, Left anti-Brexit organisation on December 10th. It remains to be seen if AEiP’s attempt to organise from a mainly England and Labour Party base can mobilise significant numbers.  It is likely that the contradictions and illusions conjured up by the ‘Love Corbyn/Hate Brexit’ mantra are not going to be resolved. However politically misplaced the SWP and its splinter organisations, their  ‘Love Corbyn/Love Brexit’ is more consistent with his politics. But the Left should long have gotten over its creation of ‘socialist icons’ – Derek Hatton, Arthur Scargill, George Galloway, Tommy Sheridan and now ‘Oh Jeremy’ – and have started to organise around its own clear politics – socialist republican and internationalist. If another Europe is to be truly possible, then the Left not only needs to provide its own vision, but recognise the reactionary nature of the UK state [4].

Allan Armstrong, 20.1.19

 

 

References

[1]          The term ‘Left Brexiters’ to cover two distinct groups. The first, the Left populists, comes from the CPGB/CP tradition of Left British nationalist hostility to the EEC/EU. This is underpinned by the old CPGB vision of a ‘British Road to Socialism’ and fond memories of USSR/UK collaboration against the German Nazis during the Second World War.

The second group, the Lexiters, come mainly from the SWP tradition. They hold some reservations about the Left populists’ belief in ‘non-racial’ immigration controls, but rather than clearly campaigning against all migration controls, they prefer just to brush the issue under the carpet (as during the formation of Respect, where Left populist, ‘non-racial’ immigration laws supporter George Galloway had to be accommodated). Like the CPGB though, they see the British imperialist, unionist and Crown Powers based UK state to be some defence against the EU’s neo-liberalism!

[2]          Later open democracy and Carole Cadwalladr were to expose the very strong likelihood official Brexit campaign had broken the electoral finance rules, and resorted to dark money from the DUP and from the hard Right in the USA channelled  through the UK’s offshore tax havens (https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/dark-money-investigations/you-aren-t-allowed-to-know-who-paid-for-key-leave-campaign-adverts/and https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/24/brexit-whistleblower-shahmir-sanni-interview-vote-leave-cambridge-analytica)

[3]          Allan Armstrong (CfaERSP and Radical ~Independence Campaign – Edinburgh) had first come across AEiP, when two of its leading organisers, Kirsty Haigh (Global Justice Now) and Michael Chessum (Labour Party and Momentum) spoke at a meeting in Glasgow on August 30th 2018 organised by the Left Against Brexit. AEiP posted Allan’s report of the meeting on their blog:- https://www.anothereurope.org/holyrood-must-take-the-lead/

[4]          The Campaign for a European Republican Socialist Party distributed a leaflet which argued this case.

 

Allan Armstrong, 20.1.19

 

_____________

APPENDIX

 

The Campaign for a European Socialist Republican Party (CfaERSP) made the proposed amendments shown in bold. However, those underlined were defeated, whilst the words deleted in the CfaERSP amendments were retained.

 

ANOTHER EUROPE IS POSSIBLE 

OUR  STRATEGY

Another Europe’s strategy and activities are guided by our aims and principles, which are a part of our constitution. This document is designed as a broad overview of our strategy, and does not include every planned activity. However, if members wish to put forward proposals for specific activities they are free to do so.

  1. Our immediate strategy 

Brexit is a project whose aim is to deregulate the economy, undermine rights and protections, and end free movement and to strengthen the UK state.It is an attack on public services, the NHS, working class people and the communities which the left is supposed to represent. It is build on a narrative of racist scapegoating, and it legitimises right wing narratives on migration and nationalism. Brexit would also reinforce UK dependence on the US corporate business interests, the US state and NATO, leading to increased spending.

In contrast to the franchise agreed by the Conservative government in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, the 2016 EU referendum excluded EU residents and 16 and 17 year olds. By these racist and anti-youth concessions to the Right, their illegal overspend and unaccounted sources of finance, a narrow majority for Leave was obtained in England and Wales, whilst Scotland and Northern Ireland voted by larger majorities to Remain.

We do not write off all those who voted Leave, or believe that they are all racists, though we must not fall into the trap of denying the role played by racist attitudes and anti-immigration rhetoric and the appeal to British chauvinism of ‘take back control’. But we disagree with this decision, and we challenge both the final legitimacy of the vote and the idea that there is any mandate for any particular form of Brexit. In a democratic society, we have the collective right to change our minds and persuade others. We assert that right, and demand a referendum on the terms of the negotiated deal – or no deal, if that is what we are left with – with an option to remain in the EU.

The vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal will be put to a vote of MPs on Tuesday December 11th. It is likely that it will fall, and that the political crisis will intensify. The voting down of the government’s deal marks an important point in our strategy. The defeat of the deal will open up a space in which either a general election or a fresh referendum are very likely. It may be necessary to extend Article 50 in order to do either of these.

While we are a proudly cross-party campaign, we understand that the position of the Labour Party particularly in England and Waleswill remain pivotal. We have already had a great deal of success in this. While we did not get everything we wanted, our unprecedented campaign in the run up to Labour conference established a sequential logic in Labour policy which is now playing out: to vote against the deal, to demand an election, and to then keep all options on the table including a public vote. Shifting Labour is not just the work of Labour members. The work done by other parties, for instance the Green Party, has been important in pushing Labour forwards.

Our aim now is to ensure that, whatever happens next, the people get the final say. In the event that a general election happens, we will fight tooth and nail to ensure that there is a majority in the new parliament in favour of calling a referendum. Practically speaking, this means campaigning for Labour to have a manifesto commitment to one, and campaigning against the Tories (in the same way that we did in 2017).

If there is a general election, it will be necessary to mobilise a massive campaign inside the Labour Party to demand that the party takes a position against Brexit, in favour of a fresh referendum, and in favour of transforming Europe. It will also be necessary for Labour members who hold this perspective to organise a strong anti-Brexit voice within the Labour campaign. We have been effective at mobilising significant numbers of Labour Party members for our campaigns. However, we are a cross-party organisation, and we must guard against Another Europe’s output being completely dominated by campaigns focused on Labour.

In the dynamic of an election campaign, any campaign aimed at changing Labour’s policy must be free to unequivocally support Labour, which Another Europe cannot do. We will therefore support the creation of a freestanding, independent campaign, open to all Labour members and supporters, with the aim of ensuring that Labour takes the right position, and which allows Labour members who are against Brexit to have a platform in the campaign and a programme of activities.

Assuming that the deal falls and there is no election, a likelihood given the Fixed Term Parliament Act we will continue and escalate our public campaign for a fresh referendum. We need to convince MPs, but our strategy is not just about lobbying. We need bottom-up pressure from constituents, from within the labour movement, those democratic campaigns for self-determination in Scotland, Ireland and Wales,and from public opinion. As well as conventional and digital campaigns and a press strategy, we need to continue the campaign of protests, marches and stunts, and push the anti-Brexit movement to escalate towards direct action and civil disobedience. Another Europe is in a unique position to deliver this.

If any Brexit deal passes, Brexit becomes extremely likely. Our only hope for success in these circumstances would be to create a crisis from the outside of the political bubble. We would have to be part of a movement that brought down the government, or which made the country so ungovernable that the government went back to the people. For now, it is unlikely that the deal will pass – but we will remain alert to one being proposed again.

Throughout this process, we will also work on an understanding and using procedural levers in Westminster and in the EU. We recognise that we are not the campaign with the most knowledge of parliamentary process, and it makes little sense for us to lead on all of this work. But we will make sure that everyone – at every level of our campaign and in the wider movement – understands what we are doing and why. We will attempt to demystify the process.

We support the self-determination of the Scottish, Welsh and Irish peoples, and their right to a referendum on independence and the unification of Ireland. We condemn the actions of the Spanish government and state in violently suppressing the Catalan people exercising their right to hold a republican independence referendum, and call for the immediate release of political prisoners. We support the right of the Catalan people to self-determination.

2. Our relationship with the anti-Brexit movement

Another Europe is part of the wider progressive left. It is also part of a growing and distinct anti-Brexit movement which has grown substantially in recent months. The 700,000-strong demonstration on October 20th was the biggest in the UK since the Iraq War period. While the leadership of the much of the anti-Brexit movement might be dominated by the political establishment, its mass base is hugely diverse both politically and demographically, and it is essential that have a strategy to interact with it.

We do not aim to set out a fully developed perspective on the anti-Brexit movement – which is diverse, complex and contradictory – here. We will aim to improve on our understanding of it in due course. We will continue to relate to the wider movement, including at its marches and meetings, and by building alliances at a local level.

  1. If our strategy succeeds – our approach to the new referendum

It is increasingly likely that we will end up fighting a new referendum on Brexit. In this scenario, we would work flat out to win the vote, and to do so with our own progressive vision for BritainEngland, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, and Europe front and centre. This means foregrounding our support for workers’ rights, environmental protections, human rights, free movement and a broader internationalist politics – not focussing abstract economic arguments. We will make the case that keepingBritainEngland, Scotland, Wales and Irelandin the EU, or defeating the government’s deal, is part of a strategy for transforming society, not the status quo.

We want to use the referendum campaign to win a public argument on a deeper level, and the profile of our arguments in the general campaign will boost the anti-Brexit vote across the board. Strategically, we will focus on voters and demographics where our messages resonate most, and where they will make the most difference. This means campaigning among working class voters, especially Labour-voting Leave voters. It also means a drive for turnout from anti-Brexit strongholds in the previous referendum, both demographically and geographically.

To give our campaign most chance of success, we do not rule out attempting to form part of the official designated campaign, so long as this does not compromise our ability to campaign clearly and honestly. After the failure of the official Remain campaign in 2016, we believe it is important that the same people and ideas do not take the leadership in the next referendum. Therefore we would hope, alongside a broad coalition, to be part of putting forward an alternative designated campaign in a new referendum

Regardless of any attempt to form the designated campaign, we will reach out to form formal and informal alliances with the Green Party, Labour, Momentum, the Left within the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Republican Movement in Ireland,trade unions, NGOs and grassroots campaigns.

In 2016, a large proportion of the legitimate electorate was disenfranchised. We support the right of all residents of the UK to vote in any referendum, as well as all UK residents living abroad and anyone over the age of 16.

  1. If Brexit happens

The going ahead of Brexit would represent a defeat for the progressive left and for ordinary people in Britain England, Scotland, Wales and Irelandand across Europe. It will almost certainly mean a loss of rights and prosperity, especially for the poorest in society and for migrants. It will strengthen the narratives and mobilisations of the far right. And it will have an international effect in the fragmentation of Europe and the emboldening of a global resurgence of aggressive nationalist and racist politics.

Brexit would also represent a major victory for Donald Trump. His national populist politics do not represent a challenge to neo-liberalism but a turbo-charged reconfiguration, the better to assert the supremacy of US state and corporate interests in a post-2008 crisis-ridden world.

Under these circumstances – which we believe are more than avoidable but for which we must nonetheless prepare – Another Europe would seek to play a critical role in bringing together the progressive left for what happens next. This would include a deliberate attempt to coalesce those parts of the grassroots of the anti-Brexit movement who agree with our aims.

Our political aims in post-Brexit Britain would be:

  • To campaign for Britain’sre-admission into the EU before the end of the transition period
  • To unapologetically make the case for free movement and migrants’ rights
  • Not only to resist any further deterioration in workers’ rights, environmental standards and human rights, but also to campaign for the UK to match further improvement EU measures and exceed them.
  • To campaign for a serious internationalist perspective, and to provide spaces to build this. We will continue to work with socialist, green, social democratic, democratic campaigns for self-determination in Scotland, Ireland and Wales,and other progressive political forces across the EU to seek fundamental democratic change in the EU’s constitution and decision making process.
  • To support the self-determination of the Scottish and Irish peoples, by supporting their right to a referendum on independence and unification respectively
  1. If we win and stay in the EU

We have always known that our mission does not end with stopping Brexit. In the event that we are successful in the short term, the real work will begin. This means:

  • We will continue our fight for a new, different better Europe, working closely with European Alternatives with whom we reaffirm our affiliation. We will work for the renewal and transformation of the European institutions. Key priorities for reform efforts in the period ahead are: reigning in the power of multinational corporations through tougher regulation, higher (and coordinated) corporation tax at the EU level, and clamping down on systemic tax evasion; creating a humanitarian system for refugee and migrant settlement, ending the policy of fortress Europe; strengthening digital rights for workers and consumers; leveling up standards for labour and the environment across Europe, including clamping down on the precarious ‘zero hour contract’ economy; pioneering a new economy, transforming the Eurozone, ending austerity, introducing a ‘new deal for Europe’, and also creating new forms of economic ownership, which allow for democratic control by workers, service users and the public.
  • Campaigning for the British left the Left in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland to have a serious internationalist perspective, and to provide it with spaces to build this.

*  Participating in and improving on a debate within the broad European left about if an how we can transform the EU, developing a realistic strategy. We must attempt to learn from  the     left’s previous successes and defeats. Syriza came to power in Greece in 2015 promising to confront the Troika and overturn austerity, but soon found itself implementing what it had once     opposed. A strategy for transformation cannot rely simply on   representatives manoeuvring and negotiating within the bounds of institutions at the national or European level. What we possess and our opponents lack, is a power lying outside those institutions – in the streets and in the collective power of organised workers. We will need to build a pan-European left and workers’ movement rooted in that power; that connects us in cross-border, transnational bonds of discussion, coordination, and practical solidarity; that does not hesitate to put extra-parliamentary pressure on parliamentary power; and that keeps the representatives we send into the corridors of government accountable to the democratic grassroots – not the other way around.

  • Alongside internal reforms to the current EU migration system, to campaign for a new coordinated strategy designed to tackle the root causes of migration in which western states have some significant historic responsibility.

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A CRITIQUE OF JEREMY CORBYN AND BRITISH LEFT SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

 

GRASSROOTS UNITE LEADERSHIP CANDIDATE ATTACKS COYNE’S AND McCLUSKEY’s CAPITULATION TO ANTI-MIGRANT POLITICS

 

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

 

FROM FARAGE’S BREXIT TO TRUMP’S “BREXIT PLUS, PLUS, PLUS”, AND ON TO ‘MADAME FREXIT’?

 

REPORT OF MEETING TO SET UP THE CAMPAIGN FOR A EUROPEAN REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST PARTY

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

AN OPEN LETTER TO LEXITERS

 

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

 

 

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Nov 03 2017

ALL HAIL THE CATALAN REPUBLIC

Below is the text of a leaflet by the Campaign for a European Republican Socialist Party. It will be distributed at the  ‘Building Bridges  to Independence’ event on Saturday November 4th. It was written before the Spanish government jailed the Catalan government leadership.

 

ALL HAIL THE CATALAN REPUBLIC

‘Building bridges to independence’ must make bridges to Catalonia central to our campaigning, not only for reasons of solidarity, but because of many parallels and lessons for the Scottish national democratic movement. Continue reading “ALL HAIL THE CATALAN REPUBLIC”

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Jul 07 2017

TWO REVOLUTIONS?

Steve Freeman reports on the politics displayed at the Left Unity Party’s conference held on June 24th in London. This was first published as a letter in Weekly Worker (http://weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1162/letters/)

 

TWO REVOLUTIONS?

Jeremy quite happy with the Crown

On June 24, Left Unity members met in conference to consider the way ahead in the next period. Members are aware of the powerful forces pulling the party to the right. But conference revealed a struggle over whether the party should respond by moving to the right or shifting to the left. The general election sharpened up the issues. Should Left Unity carry on as before, or join the ‘Corbyn revolution’, or become the party of ‘democratic revolution’?

A resolution from Birmingham says: “The ‘Corbyn revolution’ has for the foreseeable future closed the electoral space to the left of Labour.” It has “unleashed expectations which can’t be met within the confines of the existing structures of the Labour Party”. This will spill onto the streets, in campaigns and communities. Like a whirlpool, this ‘revolution’ is pulling LU down the plug. Continue reading “TWO REVOLUTIONS?”

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May 25 2017

RIC-EDINBURGH STATEMENT ON THE JUNE 8TH GENERAL ELECTION

The Radical Independence Campaign- Edinburgh has produced the following statement in response to forthcoming Westminster General Election.

 

 

Theresa May’s forthcoming general election is not a normal election. It is being called in defiance of the Tories’ own 2011 Fixed Term Parliament Act. It bears a strong resemblance to a presidential-style plebiscite. But in the absence of actual presidential powers, such as those now wielded by Trump in the USA, May still wants to be able to override Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff Bay and Stormont altogether. Continue reading “RIC-EDINBURGH STATEMENT ON THE JUNE 8TH GENERAL ELECTION”

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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. 

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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.
Continue reading “WHICH WAY NOW – ‘BREXIT’ OR ‘EX-BRIT’?”

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Apr 12 2016

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

 

Allan Armstrong (RCN) has written a second piece on the forthcoming EU referendum. This is a contribution to the debate in the RCN and the wider Left. Allan has spoken on this issue at the RIC national conference (Feb. 20th), SSP National Council (28th Feb) and the Glasgow Assembly for Democracy (2nd April).

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

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a) The politics of TINA – There is no alternative

A common accusation made by ‘No’ advocates during the Scottish Independence referendum was that support for Scottish independence or the SNP, and for withdrawal from the EU or UKIP, are but mirror images of each other. They have argued that both are based on atavistic nationalism.
Continue reading “A POLITICAL COMPARISON BETWEEN THE 2012-14 SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE AND THE 2016 EU REFERENDA CAMPAIGNS”

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Mar 18 2016

REPORT OF REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST ALLIANCE MEETING, STOCKPORT, 12th MARCH

The RCN is affiliated to the Republican Socialist Alliance. Allan Armstrong attended the meeting hosted by the new RSA (North of England) group on the 12th March in Stockport. Steve Freeman, acting RSA convenor, has written the following report. 

 

Report on Republican Socialist Alliance meeting, 12th March, Stockport

This was a productive with decisions taken which should help us build the RSA in the next year. The RSA was set up in 2013 mainly in England but with some support in Scotland to promote discussion and ideas about republican socialism.

We set up an email list now with eighty two members, from the Labour Party, Green Party, Left Unity, Rise and no party. We have been supported by the ‘Republican Communist Network’ (Scotland) and ‘A World to Win’. We have organised some debates and educational events and a ‘London Says Yes’ rally in September 2014.

Some of us have worked for republican socialism in Left Unity, the Scottish referendum, RIC and RISE and the general election. In Scotland we have seen RIC and RISE and in England the Corbyn movement has swept all before it. So there has been much change in the political environment since our foundation and this meeting was focused on catching up and looking to the future.
Continue reading “REPORT OF REPUBLICAN SOCIALIST ALLIANCE MEETING, STOCKPORT, 12th MARCH”

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Mar 02 2016

THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS

 

This article, written by Allan Armstrong (RCN) in 2015, has now been updated to include a new section 3 on Scotland. It has been moved from its earlier site.

Section A –  The UK State and Britishness

Section B –  From the Irish-British and ‘Ulster’-British ‘Insider’ to the Irish ‘Racialised’ and ‘Ethno-Religious Outsider’ to the new ‘National Outsider’

Section C – Britishness, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’ 

 

A. THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS

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Introduction

The purpose of this article is to examine the concept of the national outsider in relation to Britishness, for the people of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This has been done through the further development of the concept of the outsider used in Satnam Virdee’s significant book Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider [1]. Here he outlines the creation of the racialised outsider [2]. Mary Davis’ earlier, but also significant, Comrade or Brother? A History of the British Labour Movement (3),  wrote, in effect, about the gendered outsider, without using the term.

The first part of this article will look at the historically changing position of racialised and gendered outsiders in the UK before the second and third parts address the changing position of the national outsider. Here it will be shown how the post-war British Labour government provided widely accepted ‘insider’ Britishness status for those who held hybrid Scottish and Welsh and ‘Ulster’ British identities. This though excluded the Catholic Irish living in Northern Ireland, giving a continued basis for an Irish nationalist politics based on the Irish national outsider. For a brief period in the 1960s the development of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Movement raised the possibility of widening the sectarian nationality-based ‘Ulster’-Britishness to create a new more inclusive Northern Ireland-Britishness, However,  an alliance of the Ulster Unionism, Loyalism and the UK state  thwarted this, leading to the re-emergence of a reinvigorated Irish republicanism, which drew support from those still treated as national outsiders by the UK state.

Furthermore, in the context of a  continued imperial decline of the UK, the 1960s saw the existing Scottish-British and Welsh-British identities becoming more effectively challenged. This led to a prolonged attempt by the liberal wing of the British ruling class to try to democratise these identities within a political framework of Devolution. The failure of the Sunningdale Agreement in the face of reactionary unionism, and the 1979 Scottish and Welsh Devolution Bills through conservative unionist opposition, followed later by the lukewarm liberal unionist nature of the 1997 ‘Devolution-all-round’ settlement, have contributed to the emergence of significant numbers of Scottish and Welsh national outsiders in relation to the UK state, whilst still not fully integrating the previous Irish national outsiders. Today, the apparent inability of the UK state, with its strong conservative unionist, and growing reactionary unionist forces, to sustain a more widely supported political settlement has led considerably greater numbers to reject any notion of ‘Britishness’, particularly in Scotland.

 

1) The notion of ‘outsider’ and ‘toleration’ in relation to the role of the UK state in creating and maintaining Britishness

In some ways the position of black people in the UK from the late eighteenth century, addressed in Virdee’s book, represents an updated version of the toleration that appeared in the early days of capitalist development. This toleration was extended both to religious and ethnic minorities who performed a significant economic role within certain states. Such toleration was found in some city-states, e.g. Venice [4]and then in some mercantile capitalist states, e.g. the Netherlands, England, then the UK. These states produced regulations and developed practices that altered the status of those they tolerated, either for better or worse.
Continue reading “THE UK STATE AND BRITISHNESS”

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Aug 05 2015

WHAT THE FUK? – Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right

Gavin Bowd’s book Fascist Scotland, Caledonia and the Far Right has given succour to unionist opponents of Scottish self-determination. Allan Armstrong (RCN) provides a republican and international socialist critique.

WHAT THE FUK?

Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right

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1) What is a fascist organisation?

Gavin Bowd’s book, Fascist Scotland, Caledonia and the Far Right, contains a lot of useful material about far right writings, culture and organisation in Scotland since the 1920s. However, Bowd does not define what he means by fascism, nor distinguish it from other forms of reactionary or right populist politics. These often invoke similar chauvinist, ethnic or racist themes. The purpose behind Bowd’s lack of clarity over the political basis of fascism only emerges gradually.
Continue reading “WHAT THE FUK? – Fascist UK, Britannia and the Far Right”

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