Jul 02 2020

In memory of Neil Davidson: The West – No Better Than All the Rest

 Allan Armstrong was reading  How the West Came to Rule – The geopolitical origins of capitalism, by How the West Came to Rule – The geopolitical origins of capitalism and Kerem Nisancioglum, as he learned of the tragic death of Neil Davidson. This book was influenced by Neil’s work on Uneven and Combined Development at a world scale.

Allan has engaged in several debates with Neil about how Socialists can address Scottish history. He decided to write a review of Anievas and Nisancioglum’s book, and look at  aspects of British and Scottish history, through the lens they provide.

Allan  sent this review to Conter. He thought that the second  issue of the magazine would be well served if it had a number of articles  in Neil’s memory. However, the Covid-19 crisis has delayed this issue.

 

THE WEST – NO BETTER THAN ALL THE REST

 

Challenging Eurocentric views of the world

I was reading How the West Came to Rule (HtWctR) when I learned of the death of Neil Davidson. Neil is acknowledged by the book’s authors, Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nisancioglu, as one of their inspirers.[1] HtWctR places the Uneven and Combined Development Theory (UCDT) at the centre of its analysis, referencing Neil in doing so.[2] Neil had been making a major contribution to reviving and applying this theory to global history. This led to the conference entitled ‘Uneven and Combined Development for the 21st Century’ held in Glasgow between the 5-7th September 2019. Anievas addressed this conference, albeit on another topic than HtWctR.[3] Although this conference placed historical development in Scotland under the UCDT spotlight, its contributors also examined historical developments over a far wider arena. HtWctR addresses these developments at the global level and represents the most ambitious attempt I have read to utilise UCDT both historically and geographically, whilst also drawing upon other theories.

The title How the West Came to Rule though, is misleading. It could initially be mistaken for one of those many triumphalist books written since the nineteenth century heyday of European imperialism to the aftermath of the collapse of the USSR, which have celebrated ‘western civilisation’.[4] However, the book is making a very different argument – “one in which non-European agency relentlessly impinged upon and (re)directed the trajectory of European development”.[5] The authors point out that The Intersocietal Origins of Capitalism[6]   would be a better, but less ‘sexy’ title.

 

Making the case for the intersocietal origins of capitalism

In making the case for the intersocietal origins of capitalism, a key aim of HtWctR is to challenge not only liberal histories of the world, but by extension much Marxist historical writing and practice too. From both of these perspectives, capitalism, the first social system or mode of production to encompass the whole world, is seen to have its origins solely in Europe. This capitalist core was later extended to a ‘greater Europe’ in North America. HtWctR looks again at such thinking. This helps us to understand the role it has played in sustaining either liberal democratic ‘end-of-history’ thinking or much Marxist ‘capitalist-road-to-socialism’ thinking. Both schools of thought have looked to the global victory of European-led capitalism before their ideal societies could be created. This is why they are unable to escape from a Eurocentric view of the world.

HtWctR recognises the contributions of World Systems Theory (WST) (associated particularly with Immanuel Wallerstein).[7] But it argues that WST is based on the projection and intensification of European imposed market relations and division of labour throughout the world, whilst placing a negative sign where bourgeois political economy places a positive sign. WST opposes Adam Smith’s belief in the beneficial effect of the ‘invisible hand’ behind the ‘free market’, and David Ricardo’s belief that each national economy would find its optimum niche in the world market due to his theory of ‘comparative advantage’. WST though still mirrors their Eurocentric view of the word. WST has been good in identifying the exploitative ‘core/periphery’ relationship established under European initiated capitalist imperialism, but it also downplays the wide range of social relationships and labour regimes which the global capitalist system encompasses. These produce their own contradictions and forms of struggle.

HtWctR also recognises important points made by the Political Marxists (associated particularly with Robert Brenner).[8] The Brenner Thesis attaches much significance to the capital/wage labour relationship, seeing it as the distinguishing characteristic of capitalism. However, HtWctR shows that neither the earlier nor contemporary ‘real subsumption of labour’[9], with its domination by waged labour, can account for the nature of the global capitalist system. It also persuasively argues this system  cannot be adequately understood as flowing from purely internal developments in England; nor as the product of other developments in Europe or their projection into North America, e.g. in the Italian and Flemish city-states, in the Dutch Netherlands, or through the extension of wage labour due to the classic bourgeois revolutions in the USA and France.

 

Providing the history to back the case

To help us understand the intersocietal impact of socio-economic developments and their consequent struggles HtWctRbegins its historical study with Europe’s engagement with the Mongol Empire. This led to “an increased exposure to the technical developments in the more scientifically advanced Asia”. This was followed not only by new social relationships and labour regimes but by the transmission of the Black Death “and the subsequent demographic reordering which brought feudalism in Europe into crisis.”[10] (At this point, Covid19 could not yet be on the authors’ minds!)

After this, there is an analysis of the “‘superpower’ rivalry between the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires…. {which} undermined existing centres of feudal ruling class power – the papacy, Hapsburg Empire and Italian city-states – and supported or encouraged new counter-hegemonic forces – the Protestants, French and Dutch.” When the Hapsburgs concentrated their military efforts on the Mediterranean and Central East Europe, this afforded the Northwestern European states “the geopolitical space that proved crucial to their development along capitalist lines… {whilst} the Ottomans unintentionally created for the English a condition of geopolitical ‘isolation’, which directly contributed to the homogeneity of the English ruling class… At the same time, Ottoman territorial dominance of the Mediterranean and land routes to Asia serve to push Northwestern European states onto an altogether novel global sphere of activity – the Atlantic”[11]

Once HtWctR brings this Atlantic sphere into the wider picture, it examines “the manifold impact of the ‘New World discoveries’… and the intersocietal  interactions, conflicts and struggles critical to the emergence of the modern conceptions of territorial sovereignty, and the development of Eurocentrism, scientific racism and the modern institution of patriarchy.”[12] This section of HtWctR addresses many more issues.[13] However, it also shows how “the development of capitalism in England was itself dependent on the widened sphere of activity offered by the Atlantic and that it was through the combination of American land, African slave labour and English capital {that} the limits of English agrarian capitalism were overcome.”[14]

Although not stated explicitly, there is an implication that without the Native American genocides and African slavery, the agrarian-based English capitalism would have come up against its own developmental limits, just as the Italian city-states had. Such an approach undermines not only British imperial apologists but also the thinking of those on the Left seeing an almost inevitable self-generated capitalism with its origins in England and by extension to Europe and North America.

HtWctR looks at the ‘proto’-development’ of capitalism in the Low Countries, where further economic development would also have been curtailed without the Dutch East India Company’s (VOC) ability to create “a commercial network that combined uneven labour processes spanning the spice-producing islands of Indonesia, precious metal production in Japan and India, and textile workers in India into a single integrated network of ‘global’ production…The development of Dutch capitalism – the Bourse, Amsterdam entrepot and VOC  – were all based on this subjugated and exploited mass of unfree Asian labour-power.”[15] And the relatively limited  extension of waged labour in Dutch manufacturing at this time was tied to control over overseas unfree labour; just as the much greater extension of waged labour in England in the eighteenth century, came about through a more extensive command over American land and African slave labour.

 

Capitalism depends on a variety of forms of oppression and labour regimes 

However, HtWctR also highlights the particularly capitalist nature of various institutions developed overseas by the Dutch, despite these using unfree labour. The plantation is a key example. This also formed the basis “from which ‘super profits’ based on cheap production costs could readily be exploited.”[16] And HtWctR also notes what the black Marxist C.L.R. James had already pointed to in the British West Indian slave plantations. They had “gangs of hundreds in the huge sugar factories {which} were closer to a modern proletariat than any other group of workers at the time”.[17]

So, as well as showing that unfree and ‘free’ waged labour grew alongside and not necessarily in conflict with each other, within the different territories ruled by single states, e.g. the Dutch Netherlands and the UK, this chapter reinforces HtWctR’s argument that capitalism is a broader social system, quite capable of resorting to a wide range of labour regimes to extract profits. Non-European historians have long pointed this out this link.[18] Socialist feminists have shown that the reproduction of capitalism requires massive amounts of unpaid domestic labour, overwhelmingly provided by women,[19] with the additional effect of lowering wages in the non-domestic care sector.

And today, it should be clear that some of the most up-to-date and voracious capitalist businesses are prepared to resort to non-waged labour to maximise their profits. ‘Uberisation’ is the modern use of a version of the pre-Industrial Revolution ‘putting out’ system. Uber’s computing platforms enable it to extract big profits from self-employed taxi drivers, just as merchants providing cloth and markets did from self-employed weavers.

 

History 1, History 2 and old and new identity politics

Flowing from its recognition of a wider system of exploitative labour regimes, various forms of oppression, leading to different types of alienation, HtWctR uses Dipesh Chakrabarty’s distinction between History 1 and History 2. History 1, which supports the rule of capital, tries to make “all places (histories) exchangeable (comparable) with one another”.[20]This is a reflection of the “individual concrete labour of each worker {as} the precondition for their exchangeability on the market.[21] By contrast, History 2 refers to those histories that are encountered by capital ‘not as antecedents’ established by itself, nor as ‘forms of its own life process.’” [22] “While capital may indeed seek to rewrite social life to further the cause of ‘endless accumulation’, it does not do so – to twist a famous maxim – in conditions of its own choosing.”[23]

In looking to other sources of resistance to capitalism HtWctR argues for “an understanding of the historical constitution of racism and patriarchy as tied to, but not reducible to, the emergence of capitalism… It would avoid treating struggles that seek to destroy racism as somehow external from or mere supplements to – the cardinal aim of destroying capitalism”[24] (however that is envisaged – the abolition of the ‘free’ market, private property or the wages system).

For many Socialists such an approach conjures up the dangers of ‘identity politics’, underpinned by the theory of ‘intersectionality’.  They argue that the pursuit of individual or sectional aims undermines working class unity. In the UK, they often look back to a 1945-75 ‘golden age’ when there was apparent working-class unity. However, this ‘unity’ was often based around the notion and perceived immediate interests of the white, male, trade unionist. At best, black, women or gay workers were tolerated, provided they ‘knew their place’. Furthermore, trade unions were often active agents in these workers’ discrimination (as well as some unions promoting sectionalism which divided workers on their recognised skill levels).

There is indeed a problem with much of today’s identity politics. However, in many ways its approach to capitalism as an update of that of the ‘old identitarians’ found amongst many trade unionists and Social Democrats, seeking their place within the existing capitalist order. Social Democracy accepts wage slavery. But it wants ‘house slave’ status (better pay and conditions) for labour. It fears workers being reduced to the ‘field slave’ status of precarious super-exploited labour, often seeing those in this situation as a threat. These ‘old identitarians’ have long turned against those who seem to challenge any gains they have made. ‘British jobs for British workers’ has strong roots going back to the TUC’s support for the 1905 Aliens Act, Gordon Brown’s specific use of this slogan in 2009, and to UNITE leader, Len McCluskey’s support for Brexit.

And as Satnam Virdee has shown, even at the highpoint of Red Clydeside in 1919, celebrated by many Left Social Democrats and official and dissident Communists (Trotskyist and Maoist), Manny Shinwell of the ILP and Willie Gallacher (later of the CPGB) were trying to “import into the broad strike campaign the ‘old demand’ that black and Chinese crews should be expelled from British ships.”[25] It was as if Shinwell from his Jewish background and Gallacher from his Irish background wanted to be seen as British working class ‘old identarians’ or ‘insiders’ by turning on ‘racialised outsiders’.

Today, ‘new identitarians’, whether organised on an ethnic, gender or other basis, counter the ‘old identitarians’, who have already made it, preventing the newcomers from getting their own place under the capitalist ‘sun’. There are those who have made more recent gains within the existing capitalist order, including some feminists. They in their turn have become defensive ‘identitarians’ opposing such newcomers as the transgendered. They use the same sort of arguments once used against reforms to benefit women and gays.

The only way to challenge such divisions is from an overall international Socialist perspective. This sees the linked nature of various forms of exploitation, oppression and alienation[26] under the global capitalist order we live under. These three ‘plagues’ need to be challenged with a vision and practice based on emancipation, liberation and self-determination in its widest sense. HtWctR goes some way to providing the theories which could assist Socialists in this. It can also help us to avoid other pitfalls.

 

English exceptionalism and Scottish conceits

For those of us brought up in the UK, HtWctR highlights a particular political danger in locating the origins of capitalism exclusively in the agrarian conditions of post-Black Death England. This can lead to a Left version of English exceptionalism (a frequently unrecognised feature of British Left unionist thinking). This sets up England as the ideal capitalist model against which all later capitalist developments, in the rest of Europe and beyond, should be judged. But this can also be extended to establish a wider Eurocentric view of the world, where English economic developments replace the initial inspiring role given to Greek philosophy in more Right-wing versions of European supremacy. Both promote tunnel-vision views, either exaggerating England’s contribution to ‘progressive’ capitalist development or of classical Greece’s contribution to ‘western civilisation’.

However, HtWctR should also make us more aware of a particular Scottish conceit, which has been associated with both classical political economy and much Left Social Democracy, official and dissident Communism. The experience of initial capitalist development in Scotland took place later and much more rapidly than in England. This made the process much more visible. Several major Scottish thinkers took the lead in Europe in outlining the development of commercial society. They included Adam Smith in his The Wealth of Nations with its ‘free markets’; and Lord Kames in his Historical Law Tracts, with its identification of four stages of social development, – hunter gatherer, herder, agricultural and commercial.

Marx’s work on classical political economy and his refinement of the stages of human development to include primitive communist, slave, feudal, capitalist and communist modes of production (sometimes with addition of the ‘dead end’ Asiatic mode), placed many Scottish-born thinkers at the centre of his critiques.  Both the Right’s celebration and the Left’s critique of ‘free trade’ and ‘free’ labour, along with their placing capitalist society at the pinnacle of so-far achieved social development, have therefore contributed to another Eurocentric approach, in which Scotland is seen to have played a leading role.

Nearly all those earlier Scottish thinkers saw the 1707 Union as a key step on the road to a commercial/capitalist society. Scotland’s central place amongst the philosophers and theorists, as well as within the British imperial economy, contributed to the Victorian notion of the primacy of a ‘British road to progress’ in the world. From such thinking, various ‘British roads to socialism’ were to develop, beginning with Henry Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation – later to be renamed the British Socialist Party.

We are still living with their descendants today, whether schooled in the old official Communist Party of Great Britain, its Communist Party (of the no longer so Great) Britain, or by some dissident Communists. Precisely because of Scotland’s leading role in capitalist development, Scottish unionists, whether from the Right or Left, could place themselves in the vanguard of progress. They have celebrated their own distinctive Scottish-British part in all this – whether symbolised by the kilt recognised as court dress or by Red Clydeside’s leading role in a British Labour and Socialist movement.  These British unionists have seen any concerns with a distinctive post-1707 Scottish history as being motivated by petty nationalism. Their own ‘internationalism’ stems from either their British unionist or Comintern links.  It was only with decline of the British Empire, that Britishness, in its hybrid unionist forms, could be more clearly seen as another form of nationalism, albeit one with continued linked imperial or unionist pretensions.

But the truly global nature of today’s capitalist society outlined in HtWctR, should warn us of the dangers of another Scottish conceit. Growing numbers of Socialists in Scotland are breaking with their Left British unionist past. But in the process, many are mainly confining their practice to Scotland. Although most Left British unionists have not recognised their dependence on the wider ‘intersocietal origins of capitalism’, Socialists who downplay Scotland’s own links with past and current global capitalist developments, tend to become Left Scottish nationalists. To counter this, HtWct suggests the need for a Scottish internationalism based on the idea of ‘unity in diversity’.

 

Scotland, the UK and Europe no longer at the capitalist epicentre

Today Europe, and particularly the Northwestern European archipelago we live in, may appear increasingly peripheral to the centres of world socio-economic developments. And for those of us in Scotland, either increased provincialisation under Brexit or the break-up of the UK could both accentuate this. Therefore, Socialist thinkers in Scotland would appear to be more in the position of some seventeenth and eighteenth-century Italian city-state philosophers championing Venice’s fading glorious commercial and Renaissance past. These thinkers were still able to challenge the reactionary Papal States and Kingdom of the Two Sicilies; but they lived in a Mediterranean world, which was no longer at the centre of a wider socio-economic system. Their city-states were to give way to ‘nation’-states. They had been marginalised by developments in North Western Europe and the Atlantic.

Today Scotland may seem to be as peripheral in the world scheme of things as the eighteenth-century Italian city-states, but there is an important difference. As with most other states within the current global corporate order, many migrants or their immediate descendants live and work here. These include people from Asia, East Africa and Oceania, who hail from those areas in the rising capitalist heartlands of the Pacific and Indian Ocean seaboards. Here the Chinese promoted ‘Belt and Road Initiative’[27] competes with Indian, Japanese and US based economic initiatives. Scotland also has migrants from that cockpit of global conflict – the Middle East.

Thinkers from the Italian city-states, inspired by the European Enlightenment, would have to travel to Paris, London or Edinburgh to be heard or have much influence. Today there is a global flow of scientists, economists, social scientists and cultural figures to universities and colleges throughout the global corporate world, including Scotland. It’s not so much that Scotland is marginal in today’s world system. It forms just one of many areas, located throughout the world, where corporate capital has promoted particular activities. These include the most up-to-date finance, IT and higher educational in the quaternary sector but also the oil industry – the latest in Scotland’s ‘boom and bust’ primary sector, following timber, kelp, coal and iron ore.

 

Migrants and the making of a new ‘internationalism from below’

Migrants and their immediate descendants include a growing number of Left scholars. The two authors of HtWctR, and many of those they draw their theories upon, are amongst their number. They are able to provide a wider perspective, drawing on their own intersocietal experiences. Corporate capital’s drive to maintain global hegemony is producing its own ‘internationalism from below’ opposition. And this extends far further than Academia. This has been highlighted in these islands by significant struggles, e.g. of Turkish GAMA workers in Ireland[28] and the Latin American Workers Association led London cleaners’ strikes.[29]  Such  developments enable those of us with longer-standing domestic Scottish connections to develop a shared political practice, which can overcome Brexit provincialisation or national subordination within a corporate capital dominated global order. We are potentially far more connected than those who confronted the rise of seventeenth and eighteenth-century mercantile capitalism.

Neil Davidson is a very good example of the potential for such links. He came from the opposite social direction to those in Academia with a recent migrant background.  He had longstanding Scottish roots in Buchan and Aberdeen. But Neil went out from his job in Glasgow University to address academic and political meetings across the world. Although a major figure in global Left Academia, Neil always saw the need to push beyond this to ensure that any conferences he was involved in organising were open to political, trade union, community and social campaign activists.

It is a tragedy that Neil took ill on the first evening of the September 2019 conference. Since his fatal illness overtook him over the next few months, Neil was unable to contribute more fully to the further development and application of the thinking aired at this conference, nor to respond to the thinking of HtWctR. Neil was non-sectarian in his political approach.[30] I have always found reading and engaging with Neil’s books an enjoyable experience, because even where there is disagreement, I have learned so much from his scholarly work. I would very much have appreciated the sort of discussions I had with Neil in various watering holes after political and other events,[31] had he lived to address the arguments put forward in HtWctR. Socialists currently living in in Scotland have a responsibility to ensure that Neil’s legacy in this regard is carried on.

 

30.5.20

 

 

References and Footnotes

[1]           Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nisancioglu, How the West Came to Rule – The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism (HtWctR), (Pluto Books, 2015, London) p. xii.

[2]           HtWctR, op. cit., pp. 24, 49, 77, 197 and 300.

[3]           Alexander Anievas, Reassessing the Cold War and the Far-Right: Fascist Legacies and the Making of the Liberal International Order after 1945.

[4]           A recent example would be Rodney Stark’s How the West Won.

[5]           HtWctR, op. cit., p. 4.

[6]           HtWctR, op. cit., p. 12.

[7]           HtWctR, op. cit., pp. 14-22.

[8]           HtWctR, op. cit., pp. 14-22.

[9]           The theory of ‘subsumption of labour’ is briefly but well explained on p. 17. This is a particular Marxist theory, and hence one that may not be familiar to many in today’s proclaimed ‘post-marxist’ world. However, the distinction between the ‘formal’ and ‘real subsumption of labour’ reflects important differences in the labour regimes workers and others are subjected to, with immediate and practical political consequences.

[10]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 274 and for the full argument, Chapter 3, The Long Thirteenth Century, Structural Crisis, Conjunctural Catastrophe, pp. 64-90.

[11]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 274 and for the full argument, Chapter 3, The Long Thirteenth Century, Structural Crisis, Conjunctural Catastrophe, pp. 64-90.

[12]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 275 and for the full argument, Chapter 5, The Atlantic Sources of European Capitalism, Territorial Sovereignty and the Modern Self, pp. 121-73.

[13]         Chapter 6 addresses The ‘Classical’ Bourgeois Revolutions in the History of Combined and Uneven Development. It has clearly taken some of its inspiration from Neil Davidson’s How Revolutionary were the Bourgeois Revolutions? (Haymarket Books, 2012, Chicago)

[14]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 275.

[15]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 276 and for the full argument, Chapter 7, Combined Encounter; Dutch Colonisation in Southeast Asia and the Contradictions of ‘Free Labour’, pp. 215-44.

[16]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 276 and for the full argument, Chapter 7, Combined Encounter; Dutch Colonisation in Southeast Asia and the Contradictions of ‘Free Labour’, pp. 215-44.

[17]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 333, footnote 249.

[18]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 333, footnote 249.

[19]         HtWctR, op. cit., pp. 324-6, reference 101, Silvia Federci, Caliban and the Witch.

[20]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 37.

[21]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 37.

[22]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 37.

[23]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 38, Marcus Taylor, footnote 191.

[24]         HtWctR, op. cit., p. 282.

[25]         Satnam Virdee, Racism, Class and the Racialised Outsider (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, Basingstoke) p. 82. Satnam was also at the conference in Glasgow in September 2019.

[26]         http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2014/05/07/exploitation-oppression-and-alienation-emancipation-liberation-and-self-determination/

[27]         https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2018/jul/30/what-china-belt-road-initiative-silk-road-explainer

[28]         https://www.theguardian.com/cities/ng-interactive/2018/jul/30/what-china-belt-road-initiative-silk-road-explainer

[29]         http://www.indymedia.ie/article/77562?userlanguage=ga&save_ prefs=true

[30]         Despite our different views on aspects of global and Scottish history, Neil asked me to contribute to No Problem Here – Understanding Racism in Scotland (Luath Press, 2018, Edinburgh) another title, like HtWctR designed to provoke questioning) and to speak at the conference of scholars and activists invited to its launch in Glasgow in 2018. My contribution is entitled ‘Britishness’, the UK State, Unionism, Scotland and the ‘National Outsider’. A fuller  version of this can be seen at: http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2016/03/02/britishness-the-uk-state-unionism-scotland-and- the-national-outsider/

[31]         These included the meeting organised by the SSP in 2003, which debated Neil’s Discovering the Scottish Revolution 1692-1746 (Pluto Books, 2003, London) and my Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets(http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2003/08/03/beyond-broadswords-and-bayonets-2/) and  the meeting organised by the Radical Independence Campaign where we debated ‘For and Against Brexit’. (https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2016/03/01/a-socialist-case-for-leaving-the-eu/ and http://republicancommunist.org/blog/ 2016/04/12/a-political-comparison-between-the-2012-14-scottish-independence-referendum-and-the-2016-eu-referendum-campaign/)

______________

NEIL DAVIDSON MEMORIAL MEETING, 11.7.20

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Jun 11 2020

RACISM, CAPITALISM AND CLASS STRUGGLE

Thus article, written by Josefina L. Martinez, in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, was first posted by Left Voice in the USA.

 

RACISM, CAPITALISM AND CLASS STRUGGLE

 

The anti-racist uprising in the United States over the brutal murder of George Floyd reopens a strategic question: How do we link the struggle against racism with the struggle against capitalist exploitation? This article draws the counterpoint between the theories of intersectionality and Marxism. Continue reading “RACISM, CAPITALISM AND CLASS STRUGGLE”

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Jun 08 2020

BREXIT HASN’T GONE AWAY – THE VIEW FROM IRELAND

This article first posted by Socialist Democracy (Ireland)  highlights the continuing relevance of Brexit to the British ruling class national populist strategy to attack the working class, and to continued inability of the the British Labour leadership now under Sir Keith Starmer to counter this.

 

The only alternative to Brexit – a Trump dictated trade deal

 

BREXIT HASN’T GONE AWAY – A pandemic of repression is on its way

After months of silence Brexit has returned to the headlines. It’s sudden reappearance runs alongside a realisation that nothing has been done, and that a deadline of June 30th is rapidly approaching without any progress. The signs are that a slow motion car crash is taking place and that Britain is falling out of the European Union without any agreement. Continue reading “BREXIT HASN’T GONE AWAY – THE VIEW FROM IRELAND”

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Mar 14 2020

THE LABOUR LEFT ALLIANCE AND ROYAL SOCIALISM

This letter by Steve Freeman is a reponse to a report by Stan Keable in Weekly Worker about the post-December 12th general election conference of  section of the Labour Left, who have become disillusioned with Momentum, John Lansman’s Corbyn fan club. Yet, as this letter shows the Labour Left Alliance retains  the weaknesses of Corbyn, his allies and Momentum when it comes to the existing UK state.

 

THE LABOUR LEFT ALLIANCE AND ROYAL SOCIALISM

 

As reported by Stan Keable in ‘A vision of royal socialism’ (Weekly Worker, February 27), the Labour Left Alliance conference was a significant event in the evolution of the Labour Left, which was revitalised by the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015. Stan reports that 130 delegates at the conference represented about 36 local and national Labour Left groups. Continue reading “THE LABOUR LEFT ALLIANCE AND ROYAL SOCIALISM”

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Jan 24 2020

THE IMPACT OF THE DECEMBER 12TH GENERAL ELECTION ACROSS THE CONSTITUENT PARTS OF THE UK

Allan Armstrong follows up his article, The Continued Rise of Right National Populism and Reactionary Unionism in the Run-up to the December 12th General Election (http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2019/12/09/the-continued-rise-of-right-populism-and-reactionary-unionism/). He examines the impact of the general election results across the constituent parts of the UK and the prospects for the immediate future. 

 

THE IMPACT OF THE DECEMBER 12th GENERAL ELECTION ACROSS THE CONSTITUENT PARTS OF THE UK

 

 

a)    The three possible outcomes of the December 12th Westminster general election

b)    How Corbyn’s Left social democracy, its complicity in British chauvinism and racism and its support for the UK state helped to pave the way for Johnson

c)    Other factors undermining the Corbynista challenge to Johnson

d)    The election results in England

e)    The election results in Wales

f)     The election results in Scotland

g)    The election results in Northern Ireland

h)    Conclusion

_________________

  Continue reading “THE IMPACT OF THE DECEMBER 12TH GENERAL ELECTION ACROSS THE CONSTITUENT PARTS OF THE UK”

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Oct 22 2019

THE CONTRADICTIONS UNDERLYING BREXIT AND SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE

Allan Armstrong sent  this article to Conter, on September 13th, hoping  to open up one of the debates on the Left in relation to Scottish independence, before and during the Radical Independence Campaign conference in Glasgow on October 26th. There has been no acknowledgement of this article by the Conter editor, despite Allan being a member of RISE, Conter‘s main sponsor. This seems to reflect a unwillingness, highlighted at the founding of RISE, to discuss controversial  issues.

However, since then articles have appeared in Conter, or by RISE members writing for CommonSpace, which have been pro-Lexit. Allan’s article was written in an attempt to ensure that a fuller range of Left opinion was addressed on a specifically Socialist site claiming  to promote wider debate. This could then contribute to  the best traditions of RIC, where such controversial issues have been openly debated. A Left that is afraid to debate issues, in a democratic and respectful manner, is doomed to irrelevance.

Fortunately, both Socialist Resistance (http://socialistresistance.org/the-contradictions-underlying-brexit-and-scottish-independence/18211) and bella caledonia (https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2019/10/24/republican-internationalism-from-below/) have now posted this article. 

 

THE CONTRADICTIONS UNDERLYING BREXIT AND SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE

 

To date articles in Conter addressing Brexit have concentrated more on the neo-liberal opposition, and those on the Left perceived to be tail-ending this section of the British ruling class. There has been no real analysis of the aims of the hard right and national populist advocates of Brexit, whether the Boris Johnson-led Tories, or the Nigel Farage-led UKIP and now his Brexit Party. Brexit  has not been adequately placed in the context of the global rise of right national populism, highlighted by Donald Trump’s ‘Brexit, plus, plus, plus’, US presidential electoral victory in November 2016.[1] These people are still seen by some on the Left as political outsiders, despite now having their hands  on the US state’s anti-democratic presidential powers and the UK state’s anti-democratic crown powers. Nor have the machinations of such ‘left’ Brexit union leaders as UNITE’s Len McCluskey been addressed.[2]

 

The RIC conference on 26.10.19

The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) has formed an important arena for discussing such issues.[3] Indeed RIC’s Scottish internationalism is highlighted on its banner – ‘Another Scotland is Possible; Another Europe is Possible; Another World is Possible’. Hopefully, the October 26th RIC conference in Glasgow will extend this opportunity for discussion related to the situation we now face. Understanding the political forces, which the Left is up against, is essential, not only in the UK and wider world, but for us in Scotland, when we consider the future for Scottish independence. Continue reading “THE CONTRADICTIONS UNDERLYING BREXIT AND SCOTTISH INDEPENDENCE”

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Feb 19 2019

FROM BLATCHERISM TO MAYBYNISM

Below is a synopsis of Allan Armstrong’s new pamphlet  The Continuing Shift to the Right in the Transition from Neo-Liberalism to Right Populism

https://allanarmstrong831930095.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/right-populism-2.pdf

 

This is followed by the last two chapters (relettered) which deal with the impact of Right Populism  since the Brexit vote,

_______

THE CONTINUING SHIFT TO THE RIGHT
IN THE TRANSITION FROM
NEO-LIBERALISM TO RIGHT POPULISM

 

Allan Armstrong presents a case that the world is leaving the period of Neo-liberal domination and entering a period of Right  populist domination. This is analogous to the earlier move from post-Second World War Social Democratic domination, which ended in 1979/80. He emphasises the role of the 2008 Crash in dividing the UK and US ruling classes. This had led to the rapid growth of Right Populist politics in these and other states. The Right’s winning of the Brexit vote and then the election of Trump (‘Brexit, plus, plus, plus’) has performed a similar role in the transition from Neo-liberalist domination to Right Populist domination that the election of Thatcher and Reagan had played in the earlier transition. Continue reading “FROM BLATCHERISM TO MAYBYNISM”

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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

 

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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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May 10 2018

JOHN MACLEAN – SPEECH FROM THE DOCK, 9th May 1918

It is the centenary of John Maclean’s Speech from the Dock on 9th May 1918. Emancipation & Liberation  are commemorating the occasion by posting it this famous speech.

 

SPEECH FROM THE DOCK

John Maclean making his Speech from the Dock in Edinburgh on the 9th May, 1918

 

It has been said that they cannot fathom my motive. For the full period of my active life I have been a teacher of economics to the working classes, and my contention has always been that capitalism is rotten to its foundations, and must give place to a new society. I had a lecture, the principal heading of which was “Thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not kill”, and I pointed out that as a consequence of the robbery that goes on in all civilised countries today, our respective countries have had to keep armies, and that inevitably our armies must clash together. On that and on other grounds, I consider capitalism the most infamous, bloody and evil system that mankind has ever witnessed. My language is regarded as extravagant language, but the events of the past four years have proved my contention. Continue reading “JOHN MACLEAN – SPEECH FROM THE DOCK, 9th May 1918”

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Oct 23 2017

NORTHERN IRELAND UPDATE – THE IMPACT OF REACTIONARY UNIONISM

Northern Ireland is one part of the UK state where the reactionary unionism which has come to dominate politics since the Brexit referendum has a much longer history. The coalescence of the reactionary unionism which underpins the Tory Party and that of the DUP has now taken the shape of a governmental alliance, headed by Teresa May and Arlene Forster,

The implications of this are shown in the two articles below, both form the latest Socialst Democracy (Ireland) bulletin The first shows how the DUP are complicit in helping the Loyalists further their longstanding policy of ethnic cleansing. The recent election of Emma Little-Pengelly as DUP MP at Westminster has been followed by a campaign to remove Catholic residents from a previously shared housing scheme  in her South Belfast constituency (until recently held by the moderate nationalist SDLP).

The second article highlights the inevitable trajectory towards a hard border in Ireland under Brexit. The DUP which supports Brexit (a minority position in Northern Ireland) claims it doe not want a hard border. If pushed, it would probably say it didn’t want ethnic cleansing in Belfast either ( if Catholics would just accept a second class status).  But maintaining support for Unionist supremacy, which means retaining the support of Loyalism, means that the reality on the ground is very different from DUP public statements made for the benefit of a wider media. 

 

1. THE ZOMBIE PEACE CALLS TO SAVE STORMONT

South Belfast Loyalists from ‘Village Team On Tour’.

For most of 2017 the Irish peace process has been in crisis and the northern assembly collapsed. There are frantic calls for restoration and both Sinn Fein and the DUP proclaim that their one desire is to agree a new executive. Continue reading “NORTHERN IRELAND UPDATE – THE IMPACT OF REACTIONARY UNIONISM”

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