Allan Armstrong, who first became politically active in 1968, gives his political assessment of the political situation in the aftermath of the June 23d EU referendum. Allan is on the Editorial Board of Emancipation & Liberation, a supporter of the Republican Socialist Alliance, the Radical Independence Campaign and, in the ‘Spirit of 68’, a dissident member of the SSP and RISE.
The International Revolutionary Wave from 1968-75, encompassing the world from Vietnam to Paris, was contained. However, a group of socialists helped to put some new life into the possibility of a social order beyond the discredited models of Social Democracy and official Communism. Sadly today, we have one of 1968’s leading proponents, Tariq Ali, in his role as a prominent Lexiter, reacting to the situation created by the EU referendum more in the manner of the French CP in 1968, diverting a potential European Democratic Revolution on to the path of national reformism. Today this can only reinforce the Right across Europe. However, others of Allan’s generation, including Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey, have seen a very different potential in the current situation.
It is to be hoped that the short-lived International Revolutionary Wave of 2011, encompassing the ‘Arab Spring’ and the Indignados of Greece and Spain, will prove to be a 1905 International Revolutionary Wave-style prelude to a new revolutionary wave. For the moment the 2011 wave has ebbed back to the communities of resistance in Palestine and Kobane, and to the electoralism of Syriza and Podemos.
Allan’s contribution is based on a talk he gave at the Edinburgh RISE circle on June 28th and has been extended, updated and written in the form of an appeal from a member of the 1968 generation to those of the new young 2011 generation.
(* FUKers are supporters of a ‘Free UK’. They stretch from the Fascist and Loyalist Far Right, through the Right populist UKIP to the reactionary Right Tories.)
AFTER JUNE 24th – THE FUKers’* BLACK FRIDAY or RED FRIDAY FOR A EUROPE’S DEMOCRATIC REVOLUTION
i) The significance of Friday June 24th
I awoke last Friday, June 24th, after the EU referendum, with a certain feeling of deja vu. There was the same queasiness in the pit of my stomach as there had been on September 19th, 2014, after the Scottish independence referendum result was announced.
Back then, it took until September 22nd, and the amazing RIC-Edinburgh meeting held on The Meadows, James Connolly’s old outdoor meeting place, to realise that the game was far from over. A little over a month later 3000 people attended the Radical Independence Campaign’s (RIC) third national conference in Glasgow. I began to appreciate that when 97% had registered to vote in Scotland and 85% had actually done so, we had witnessed “the largest movement for popular democracy seen in these islands since the Irish War of Independence” (1), in effect the beginning of a democratic revolution. This had knock-on potential for the whole of these islands and beyond, perhaps with the most immediate impact in Catalunya. RIC’s ‘internationalism from below’ approach had been vindicated.
The whirlwind of events that has hit us since last Friday is also of great political significance, not only for Scotland and the UK, but for all of Europe and probably beyond. It only took until the evening for that feeling in the pit of my stomach to go away and for some hope to come back again. This followed the demonstration outside St. Giles in Edinburgh, which had been called at very short notice by the Migrant Solidarity Network. 500 attended and an impromptu march triumphantly made its way down Edinburgh’s historic High Street, starting from outside Scotland’s old parliament and reconvening outside the new one at Holyrood.
ii) The ‘Leave’ majority vote – justifiable or understandable?
There are still things that unite those Lexiters who, in my opinion, misguidedly argued to ‘Leave’, and those who argued to ‘Abstain’, with those of us who argued to ‘Remain’. I would very much want to develop points of agreement where we can work together in the new situation we confront. The defence of migrants, asylum seekers and employment rights are key examples.
However, it is also necessary to examine the significance of the remaining political differences, because if unresolved, they will affect the way we act in the near future. I think that one such difference can best be captured in a word, which Cat Boyd used in her column in The National on the 28th June. Cat, when describing the majority ‘Leave’ vote, wrote that, “A justified roar of rage must not be dismissed as ignorance”. I would replace that word ‘justified’ with understandable.
I also think that Cat’s own stance in her National column is understandable, but I do not see that “roar of rage” as justified. Cat, like many of us, a somewhat reluctant ‘Remain’ voter (2), doesn’t want the northern English working class written off as racist or stupid. Cat is quite rightly appalled by such middle class condescension as “the horribly posh ‘satire’ you get on Radio 4” (and I think she would accept in some of the Scottish media too). Cat states that she does not “want to abandon the north of England, a traditional bastion of social democracy and trade unionism.”
Born in Edinburgh, my mother’s city, I moved to Tyneside and lived there from the age of 1 to 14. I still have relatives and friends there. My father was a proud Geordie, who worked as a fitter in a North Shields dockyard now long closed. Before becoming a fitter, he was in the merchant navy. He worked with Lascar seamen. When his ship docked in the still racially segregated Charleston in South Carolina, he was horrified when his Lascar shipmates were separated from the white members of the crew and prevented from going through the same gates to watch an American football match. If I had brought a Black or Asian girlfriend home he would have been welcoming, although liable to make somewhat gauche remarks!
Nevertheless, his everyday language included ‘Pakis’, ‘Chinkies’, ‘Eyeties’, ‘Nips’ and ‘Krauts’ (his pet prejudice after serving in the Royal Navy in the Second World War!). The dockyard he worked in had a trade union closed shop. But once he had left what became an increasingly insecure job with too much short-time working, my father, now in series of a non-union agricultural machinery and central heating repair and sales jobs, became more easily attracted to right wing arguments about too many immigrants. Later, the racist Alf Garnett became one of his favourite TV characters and he thought Enoch Powell had some good ideas.
The decline of traditional industries and the resulting alienation, or the absence of effective collective working class organisation, can all contribute to populist and individualist politics with a racist component. But when this expresses itself, it may be understandable, but not justifiable. Such politics need to be challenged not apologised for – because, as will be shown, there are important political consequences in acknowledging this particular difference.
Many people have a stereotyped view of what a racist is, thinking either of some foul-mouthed bigot or a tattoo-covered fascist skinhead. But racism covers a much wider spectrum than this. A deep-seated, and not necessarily overt, racism is much more widespread than that visible hard-core racism. It is found throughout the UK. British society is presided over by a UK state, which is based on an engrained constitutional British unionism and chauvinism, an official established Protestantism, a longstanding and officially celebrated imperial martial tradition and the anti-democratic Crown-in-Westminster. These features provide scope for many different reactionary types of consciousness, often taking on specific forms in the different units of the UK state – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, all with their own hybrid forms of ‘Britishness’ (3).
The affect of all this has penetrated deeply into most people’s ‘unconsciousness’, and chauvinism or racism can be readily activated in certain political circumstances. This is as true of Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London as it is of northern England. A good deal of what passes for Scottish nationalism is a legacy of British imperialism, such as support for Scottish regiments. A century ago, far more soldiers from Ireland fought in the barbaric First World War than in the 1916 Easter Rising. This was at the time before republicanism had seriously begun to replace Irish constitutional nationalism.
So, to all those complacent liberal Scottish politicians and sections of the media, who think Scotland is largely immune to racism, and who smugly look down upon the people of northern England, a socialist reply would state that racism is still widespread in Scotland (especially in the particularly virulent pockets of Loyalism). Furthermore, racism is not something that is confined to Brexiters. The fact that racism’s most overt forms appear to be contained here up to now does not mean that there isn’t a latent pool, which could be activated in changed political circumstances (4).
This is why any liberal complacency, which invokes Scotland’s ‘non-racism’, is dangerous. The only political culture that can really challenge racism is one based on a conscious anti-racism, and that should be the starting point for our socialist challenge over the EU referendum.
iii) Brexiters, Lexiters and….
So what is the real political significance of the ‘Leave’ majority in last Thursday’s referendum? A very misguided view held by Brexiters including Lexiters, see this as somehow England’s equivalent of the Scottish anti-establishment vote in the 2014 referendum. The two campaigns did represent a challenge to the British ruling class’ and its international allies’ attempt to preserve the status quo. In response, the ruling class spokespersons resorted to ‘Project Fear’ in both referenda campaigns. However, in the Scottish independence referendum, ‘Project Fear’ was challenged from the Left with what could be termed ‘Project Hope’; whilst in the EU referendum it has been challenged overwhelmingly from the Right with ‘Project Hate’.
In the Scottish independence campaign, ‘Project Hope’ arose from a massive grassroots upsurge beyond the official ‘Yes’ campaign. This shifted the terms of the debate from the timid conservatism originally envisaged by the SNP leadership. RIC, at its best, based on its republican and internationalism-from-below principles, was central to this. This amounted to the beginnings of a democratic revolution, which the UK state and the SNP leadership, in their own different ways, have being trying to roll back or contain ever since (5).
In contrast, the ‘Project Hate’ of the EU referendum campaign focused on a vicious anti-immigrant offensive tied to reactionary nostalgic attempts to turn the ‘clock’ back to the time when there was a ‘whiter’ Britain, where the oppressed – whether women, blacks, gays and lesbians, when acknowledged at all – were only tolerated to the degree they accepted their subordinate place in British society.
The Labour populist Brexiters, Kate Hoey, Dennis Skinner, Arthur Scargill, and the wannabe Labour populist, George Galloway, had no effect on the Right wing political trajectory of the Brexit campaign. Indeed over anti-migrant feeling some pandered to it. They may have persuaded numbers of misguided Labour supporters to vote ‘Leave’, by invoking their own nostalgic view of Great Britain, either from before the days of Thatcher, or going back further to the ‘Spirit of 45’.
Some of the Right Brexiters look back to before 1956, when the Suez debacle exposed the real state of a considerably weakened British imperialism. Others looked back to the ‘glory days’ associated with Churchill, or go even further back before 1914, or to ‘good old’ Queen Vic. However, which ever Left or Right nostalgic date you celebrate, these days can not be brought back (6). Furthermore if you consider any of these periods from the viewpoint of being a woman, gay, lesbian, Irish, or coming from a British colonial background, you would be far less likely to see them through rose-tinted spectacles.
Before the 2015 Westminster general election, Cameron and his Eurosceptic, but still ‘Remain’, wing of the Conservatives (ineptly aided by Miliband-led Labour) wanted to move UK and EU politics to the Right without any of the Right populist clamour associated with having an EU referendum. As part of the Conservatives’ general election campaign to marginalise UKIP, though, Cameron did promise such a referendum, never thinking his party would gain an absolute majority. However, he was hoist on his own petard, when the Conservatives were elected without any dependence on the Lib-Dems, who were all but wiped out. This can best be explained as the consequence of the Labour ‘opposition’, led by Miliband, giving up on its own very mild social democratic manifesto. Miliband said he would rather have a Tory government and preserve the existing Westminster status quo than rely upon SNP parliamentary support. He got his wish! In opposition at Westminster, Miliband continued to ensure Labour MPs’ votes for the government to implement the Conservatives’ election manifesto instead – with only Jeremy Corbyn and a few others opposing at that time and lining up with the SNP at Westminster.
However, a minority section of the ruling class wanted Brexit in order to move UK politics considerably further to the Right, and at much greater speed than Cameron and Miliband were doing. They provided substantial funding to the Tory Right against Cameron. They had the backing of much of the British press. Reinforcing the power of the UK state (“take back control”) and immigration became the central issues. The Tory Right thought they could come to a new arrangement with the EU, and deal with Right populist Farage after the referendum. They quickly put in place their own ‘Vote Leave’ campaign, which not surprisingly became the official one, pushed by the BBC. They ensured that Farage and his ‘Grassroots Out’ was kept out of most of the major debates.
Johnson’s role was to front this offensive. Far from being any outsider, disconnected from the aloof British political elite, Johnson is so much a ruling class insider that he spent the Sunday after the referendum, playing cricket with Earl Spencer, brother of the late Princess Diana. Being so obviously upper crust, Johnson makes no attempt to hide this, but adopts his ‘Boris’ public buffoon persona to mask the ruthless arrogance and sense of entitlement he shares with others of his class.
Farage, however, promoted a more vulgar populist campaign, with particularly blatant resort to anti-immigrant and Islamophobic sentiments. ‘Grassroots Out’ was based on a dog whistle racism (urged on by George Galloway with his anti-Romanian comments), before finally dropping all pretence and coming out with the openly racist ‘Breaking Point’ travelling billboard. As a populist, Farage has promoted a blokey ‘beer and cigarette’ image. This probably masks a ‘champagne and cigar’ private life, when he is with his commodity broker and former public school chums.
To avoid an open a connection with the Right Brexiters, an alliance of Labour Left unionists, the CPB, SP, SWP and Counterfire came up with a Left populist and Lexit Brexit. This operated mainly from London. Yet London voted to ‘Remain’. They did not advertise any major public meetings or demonstrations in what were clearly going to be ‘Leave’ majority areas in the North, East or the Midlands. Left populist and Lexit Brexit had even less weight within the wider ‘Leave’ campaign than Galloway’s ‘Just Say Naw’ and the Red Paper Collective had in the wider ‘No’ campaign leading up to the Scottish independence referendum. In the EU referendum, Galloway, now based in London, plumped for Farage’s ‘Grassroots Out’, whilst in Scotland the Red Paper Collective went for Lexit. Both failed in the particular areas they were campaigning in. And despite being on the winning side in Scotland in September 2014, and at an all-UK level in June 2016, they have been unable to prevent the real victors in these referenda from moving politics to the Right. Those workers drawn in to supporting a Labour led unionist ‘No’ in September 2014, found that unionist leadership in Scotland passed to Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives in the May 2016 Holyrood election. Furthermore, by June 24th, a large majority of Brexit voters in England and Wales were clearly under the political sway of the Right led by either Johnson or Farage, or offered no politically discernible overt challenge.
Left Populist Brexit supporters , though, had their own Scottish Left Leave office with Scottish Labour member, Vince Mills and CPB member, John Foster (both of the Red Paper Collective). They brought the Left populist, Arthur Scargill, up to Glasgow. The SWP Lexiters joined, but had to flip back into pre-2011 ‘British road’ mode. The Socialist Party of Scotland (SPS) also supported ‘Leave’, resurrecting, in effect, the NO2EU campaign, which had earlier linked them with the CPB too. Thus, most of these Lexiters just acted as Left Brexiters, defending UK ‘democracy’ against EU bureaucracy. Aren’t they in for a surprise when they find out about the House of Lords and the monarch-fronted Crown Powers, including Westminster’s power to over-ride or interpret the ‘meaning’ of any referendum!
iv) …. Scoxiters – harbingers of a future turn to ethnic or narrow nationalism
However, Scotland also had its own Scoxit (Scottish exit on the back of Brexit) variants. The dissident SNPer Jim Sillar’s political vision appears to go back to the social democratic heyday of the mid-70s Britain – but dressed up in tartan. Sillar’s Scoxit contribution bowed before anti-immigrant sentiment, and he has denied climate change and is an advocate of fracking. Only the first of these stances is likely to win him much support beyond certain business circles, but it won’t be from any principled socialists. We support the free movement of people and not just the selective movement of labour.
Left nationalist and populist Tommy Sheridan, with his Solidarity fan club (now abandoned by the SWP and SPS), ploughed a more lonely furrow. He was no longer able to do the 2007 double act with his old Left unionist and populist pal, George Galloway. Galloway is now more drawn to Farage, who attracts bigger audiences. Instead Sheridan has been cultivating the ethnic nationalist wing of Scottish nationalism, particularly Scottish Resistance. He sees himself as a modern day Robert the Bruce. However, Thomas the Sheridan is currently confined to Bruce’s ‘spider in a cave’ phase, preparing for another tussle with the “Evil Murdoch Empire”.
Socialists need to be prepared to challenge emergent ethnic Scottish nationalism, and any attempt to displace the multi-ethnic civic nation and the Scottish internationalism which formed such a central part of the 2012-14 Scottish referendum campaign. In voting terms, even if we are only talking about a case of two bald men – RISE and Solidarity – fighting over a comb, Sheridan and his fan club managed to poll more votes than RISE in the May Holyrood elections. This highlights the work to be done to prepare us for the future. If the economic situation continues to decline, leading to an even more atomised and alienated workforce, ethnic nationalism will grow in Scotland, just as it has in England. And anybody claiming to be socialist, who might later try to justify this, needs to be strongly challenged.
v) The political significance of the fragmented ‘Leave’ majority and the more socially coherent ‘Remain’ minority
We can now see the immediate impact of the ‘Leave’ ‘victory’. It has done absolutely nothing to confirm the illusions of the Left populist Brexiters, the Lexiters, or the Scoxiters. Those workers “justified” in voting ‘Leave’, in the eyes of the Brexiters and the Lexiters, have not followed up their crushing victory over Cameron by taking to the streets or striking against the Tories’ austerity drive. Nor does a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party look particularly likely to replace the Tories in the immediate future – and of course, he was a Remainer, in public at least.
Scoxiters may be more confident of getting a second Scottish independence referendum, but that would be on the basis of the Remain vote in Scotland, which they opposed. Furthermore, this does not take into consideration the likelihood we will face an even further Right wing UK government, much less likely to concede such a second Scottish independence referendum.
The new situation has led some Lexiters, notably the SWP, to quietly abandon ‘Leave’ and throw themselves, somewhat hypocritically, into a renewed call for Scottish independence. This is based upon a ‘Remain’ vote which they also opposed. They attempt to pull off such U-turns by claiming, “We’re the revolutionary party” (code words for, ‘We can make it up as we go along’); and its all a question of “tactics, tactics, tactics” (code words for, ‘We have no programme, so anything goes’). It is likely they will get a dispensation from their London head office, just as they finally did in 2011 over Scottish independence, when this could be justified on anti-Tory grounds. However, back then, neither the SWP, nor its main breakaway, Counterfire, helped to organise a wider solidarity campaign in England, Wales or Ireland to back the ‘Yes’ campaign. That was left to RIC (including the soon to be dissolved SWP breakaway – ISG) and dissident Left Unity Party supporters.
The tragic killing of Jo Cox MP, campaigner for asylum seekers’ rights and ‘Remain’ supporter, failed to act as a wake-up call for the Lexiters. She was killed by a lone fascist, Thomas Mair, activated by all the Brexit hatred. However, we can now see the impact of the Brexit vote itself. Since Friday 24th June, there has been a big increase in hate crimes, conducted by racist Brexiters. This has been directed particularly at the most visible group of east Europeans – Poles, including young schoolchildren and also Polish property. However, this hatred has also been targeted at long-standing British subjects (some of whom voted ‘Leave’, because they thought they would not be affected), but who happen to have the ‘wrong’ colour of skin or wear the ‘wrong’ clothing. There can be a quick slippage from the officially encouraged notion of colour-blind ‘Britishness’, extended to all subjects who are prepared to accept ‘British values’, to that old style British racism based upon skin colour, and wearing ‘strange’ clothing . A switch to open racism quickly re-emerges when the political conditions worsen.
Where is the Lexit component of Brexit now? Having condemned Labour and the Left for allowing Johnson and Farage to take the lead of what they considered to be a potentially progressive ‘Leave’ campaign, they are now criticising those who turn up at post-referendum ‘Remain’ demonstrations. Lexit has been provided, though, with a unique opportunity to take the lead in the Brexit campaign, given the desertion of Johnson and Farage and the mess its main leaders have got themselves in. However, Lexit dares not follow the logic of its misguided politics and call a demo for an ‘Immediate Break with the EU’ – frightened at who may turn up!
In the first few days after the referendum vote, as hate crimes escalated, Lexiters did not call any immediate demonstrations in those ‘Leave’ majority areas to support migrant workers under attack. In contrast the Scottish Left, most if whom had been in the ‘Remain’ or ‘Abstain’ camp, rallied behind the Migrant Solidarity Network-initiated demo in Edinburgh, within hours of the result. There was another demo in Glasgow. These migrant workers in Scotland initially faced last Friday morning with some trepidation, but many took real confidence when 500 people turned up to their demo in Edinburgh. Greg, a Polish comrade from Razem and in RISE, has said that he and three of his friends had been approached by Scots offering reassurance and support. I have made critical comments about Nicola Sturgeon’s politics in the past, but when she stood up so publicly on Friday and said that migrants continued to be welcome in Scotland, I thought that was great. The same goes for the words expressed by Sadiq Khan, London’s new Labour mayor, and spokesperson for a solidly ‘Remain’ city. Yet, even in these places there is no room for complacency.
There are signs that the Tories will unite around an even more right wing leadership (with both Leavers and Remainers). They have shown considerable ability to knife each other in the back, when it comes to leadership bids, but once that bloodfest is done and dusted, class unity is more likely to prevail amongst the Tories than in the Labour Party. The Labour Party is currently being pulled apart by two forces – those Rightist careerists who aspire to become fully-accepted members of the current global corporate order, lining their pockets in the process; and those blue and white collar workers, driven downwards after years of Blatcherism, who are supported by Jeremy Corbyn. To what degree the current Right wing attacks on Corbyn have been a last minute frenzied attempt to oust him prior to the publication of the Chilcot Report is not clear, but we can be sure that the tensions within the Labour Party will only intensify afterwards.
There are a number of possibilities stemming from the crisis in the Labour Party. The least likely is Corbyn can hold on without further challenges to his leadership. Secondly, in the event of a new leadership ballot, some significant trade union leaders could take the opportunity to stab him in the back and support a new ‘unity’ candidate (bets on for who would be first!). Thirdly the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) ousts Corbyn from its ranks and declares that the PLP is the Labour Party. The PLP has long behaved as if this was the case anyhow. Some PLP members have dismissed the rank and file members as “dogs” – and dogs are meant to do as they are told. Fourthly, there is another Labour leadership election that Corbyn goes on to win again. In this case the Right could desert and create an SDP mark 2, as they did in 1981. In the following 1983 election, Labour’s Westminster representation fell back badly, despite the previous four years of Thatcher. The diminished Corbyn-led Labour Party would initially have much smaller Westminster representation than the Michael Foot-led Labour Party. Furthermore, it looks likely likely that Labour wont be given two years to recover, before any general election.
Therefore, none of these four possible outcomes is likely to lead to Labour replacing the Tories in government in the immediate future. Neither do I see TUSC stepping into the breach to take on this role! This just confirms the warning given by other socialists to the Left populist Brexiters and the Lexiters that any likely likely Brexit outcome could only shift politics to the Right.
In Scotland, the nationalist and republican parts of Northern Ireland and London, politics have not moved further to the Right politically though, as a consequence of their decision to ‘Remain’. Nobody believes that the ‘Remain’ vote came about in Scotland because of the Cameron’s ‘Britain Better In Europe’ campaign. The ‘Remain’ vote, taken in Holyrood on May 27th, was passed by 106 to 8, with 4 abstentions. The motion was moved by the SNP, with all their attendant MSPs voting for. Ruth Davidson faced the embarrassment of having 7 Tory MSPs voting against and 3 abstaining (whilst Kezia Dugdate had 1 Labour MSP voting against and 1 abstaining). Ruth Davidson may have gone down well on television in London, but maintained an uncharacteristically low profile in Scotland, when it came to ‘Remain’ campaigning.
Cameron didn’t take his ‘Remain’ campaign to the republican and nationalist areas of Northern Ireland – I wonder why! In London, Sadiq Khan did agree to join Cameron’s official ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ campaign, but it is arguable that if he had maintained an independent stance, he might have been even more effective. Cameron’s Conservatives had just backed Brexiter Zak Goldsmith’s notoriously Islamophobic campaign against Khan for London mayor. (Ironically, neither Goldsmith the wannabe London mayor, nor Johnson the former mayor, managed to deliver ‘Leave’ majority votes in their own current or former constituencies!)
Let us then examine that ‘Remain’ vote more closely. Scotland had a ‘Remain’ majority in every single constituency. That is an unprecedented development, possibly heralding the restart of a democratic revolution throughout these islands and hopefully beyond and into the rest of the EU. Nevertheless, after nationalist Derry, the highest percentage ‘Remain’ constituency votes were all in London. Four out of the next top five ‘Remain’ constituencies here are Labour-held, including Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington. The Conservative-held City of London was the other. In contrast, the Conservatives hold four out of the only five ‘Leave’ constituencies in London. The other constituency, Barking and Dagenham is held by Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge – nuff said!
The ‘Remain’ vote also won out in Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Norwich, Leicester, Brighton, Bristol, Exeter, Oxford, Cambridge and York. The Welsh minority ‘Remain’ vote included a majority in the capital, Cardiff, and the two main Welsh-speaking constituencies. In Northern Ireland, the ‘Remain’ vote included all the republican and nationalist held constituencies, and a majority in the capital Belfast.
Certainly, there was a significant middle class ‘Remain’ vote, highlighted not only by the City of London, but by swathes of England, such as the Cotswolds/Chilterns area, where both David Cameron and Theresa May are MPs. Here the ‘Remain’ vote did indeed reflect such middle class concerns as their second homes in the Dordogne or Tuscany, and worries about where they might get their next au pairs from in the event of a Brexit. However, in Belfast you are more likely to see Ian Paisley Junior, on Belfast’s Falls Road, amongst all those tricolours, looking for an Irish passport , than find any au pair girls!
The ‘Leave’ vote was concentrated in the economically, socially and politically neglected old industrial areas of the North, the Midlands and South Wales, where the traditional social democratic and trade union forms of working class collectivity have been gutted. However, the fact that Liverpool, a city devastated by Thatcher, voted ‘Remain’; whilst less badly affected Birmingham voted ‘Leave’, shows that other political factors have to be taken into account. ‘Leave’ also dominated the low wage agricultural areas and the fishing ports of eastern England, English-speaking rural Wales and unionist and loyalist Northern Ireland. Furthermore, there was also a majority ‘Leave’ vote in parts of England, such as the Tory traditionalist dominated West Country, where pro-fox-hunting Andrea Leadsome is MP.
Therefore the question for socialists is – where can we find the more politically advanced core around which to develop the democratic revolution? The answer lies in Scotland, London and the other ‘Remain’ cities, the republican areas of Northern Ireland and the Welsh-speaking areas of Wales (both of which have been subject to longstanding anti-Irish or anti-Welsh speaker prejudice). This does not mean that socialists in the ‘Leave’ areas should all ‘up sticks’ and move to ‘Remain’ areas; just that they will initially be working in less conducive political environments, especially in loyalist Northern Ireland (well in this case, maybe there is a case for moving, when even the liberal unionist Alliance Party got its office burnt out by rampaging loyalists, only a few years back!)
vi) The public reappearance of Right Labour, strengthened by the Brexit vote
Despite the very good ‘Remain’ vote in Corbyn’s own constituency, Blairite Remainers have viciously attacked him. In many cases they could not deliver a ‘Remain’ vote in their own constituencies. But ‘Remain’/’Leave’ isn’t really the central issue for the Right. Right Labour Brexiters, such as John Mann, Frank Field and Scotland’s Tom Harris, have also joined in the attacks on Corbyn. They have not attracted any condemnation from the Blairite Remainers, nor ironically in the case of the latter two, from other Labour Brexiters, after failing to deliver a ‘Leave’ vote in their own constituencies!
Clearly, both wings of the Labour Right, Remainers and Leavers, have got themselves into a position over the years, where they have lost contact with their constituents. They have been more interested in developing their careers and lining their own pockets. In this, many take Tony Blair as their inspiration, although it is hard to top Blair’s cynicism. Looking only to Blair’s legacy in the UK, he helped start a war that led to the death of 179 British subjects, including many young soldiers, whilst simultaneously using his political position to build up a property portfolio for himself, Cherie and their own children. After the Chilcot Report it will be interesting to see what proportion of those Labour MPs opposing Corbyn and who supported the Iraq War are still found amongst the War Crime leader’s apologists.
The Right’s selective myopia over the nature of the Labour’s ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ votes arises because they are united in a shared desire to kick out Corbyn. Within the Parliamentary Labour Party, this has highlighted the immediate shift to the Right, following the Brexit vote, and their attempted leadership coup on June 26th. Lexiters have been in denial about a wider political shift to the Right in official politics. Corbyn is now an obstacle to the Right’s desire for Labour to fight the next general election on a manifesto committed to a British chauvinist points-based migrant entry system to the UK, continued attacks on the ‘undeserving’, and support for Trident and imperial wars.
We have seen that the Labour Right view the party’s rank and file members as “dogs”. They don’t even get thrown the odd ‘bone’! Ordinary members should just send in their money and act as unquestioning foot-soldiers during elections. Paid professionals do most campaigning. The right wing media sets the political agenda, especially Rupert Murdoch’s press, and they must be appeased at all costs. In the event of the Tories eventually losing electoral credibility, then the Labour Right hopes to replace them in government with ‘new faces’ practising virtually identical politics under a different name. In the meantime, any election casualties pick up their pensions and look for consultancies or sinecures in business, the media, or selected think tanks and foundations. Again, Blair immediately springs to mind, along with Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling.
The neo-Blairites, neo-Gordonites and Blue Labour all want to get back to Blatcherite politics, where the Right sets the agenda and there is very little that divides the Tories from Labour (not so much Red, but pale pink Tories), or the ‘Orange Book’ Liberal Tories for that matter. The Labour Right’s longstanding cooperation with the Tories shows this. Just look at ‘One Nation’ Labour’s Tory-supporting voting record at Westminster under Miliband!
Together, the Tories and New Labour undermined even the limited implementation of those progressive EU laws that have existed. Brown and Gove have attempted to enforce British subjecthood on approved migrants through compulsory testing for acceptance of ‘British values’. Labour and Conservatives have supported the further tightening of immigration laws. Both Labour and Conservative politicians have resorted to Islamophobia. They have both backed wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and if Corbyn hadn’t become leader, Syria would have been added to that list – although Hilary Benn was happy to join with the Tories on this too. The Labour Right is eager to support the Tories in renewing Trident. And of course they were united in ‘Better Together’ to save the Union. The Brexit vote has provided the conditions to renew this old Blatcherite alliance in an even further Right led Westminster.
Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are still Labour MPs because they have campaigned on progressive national and local issues. They have involved their constituency memberships, thus being able to hold out against any attempt to impose Blairite candidates. These have often been parachuted into constituency parties that have lost much wider contact with their electorate, or turned their backs on an active membership involved in their running. Scotland provides perhaps possibly the worst example of this, with Blair’s imposition of ex-Major Eric Joyce, to oust popular Left winger, Dennis Canavan.
Corbyn and McDonnell were once opponents of the EU. However, they have followed the trajectory of many former anti-EU trade union leaders. They have become thankful for crumbs from the EU table, which offer some scant protection from the relentless neo-liberal drive of the Tories and New Labour. Nevertheless, Corbyn can still see the problems in the existing EU set-up and is prepared to point these out. He has termed the EU “lacklustre” and “seven-out-of-ten”, even suggesting that some unspecified reforms may be necessary. Cat Boyd accurately describes Corbyn’s stance as “honest”. But such honesty is total anathema to the Conservative-Lite Blairite Remainers and the UKIP-Lite Labour Leavers.
vii) The political weaknesses of Corbyn, the ‘Remain’ camp in England and the ‘Brit Left’
Nevertheless, Corbyn does display political weaknesses, which undermine his ability to challenge the Right more effectively. First, there is the obvious point that his whole political strategy is based on winning the next Westminster election. To do this, Corbyn has bent over backwards to accommodate the Right. They still control the party machine, many local councils and, although now numerically weaker in the Labour Party as a whole, utterly dominate the PLP. The Right also receives the backing of the media.
Yet it goes deeper than this. Corbyn and his allies see the existing UK state, with its sovereignty lying in the Crown-in-Westminster, as an adequate vehicle for their proposed neo-Keynesian and social democratic reforms. The ruling class, or at least its paid media protagonists, understand this weakness. This is why, very soon after he was elected as Labour leader, the media set up the ‘bow before the queen’ incident to test him. Corbyn did not have to get into a personal snub of the monarch. Its not the monarchy as such that is the prime problem, but the UK’s Crown Powers. He was being asked to meet the queen at one of Westminster’s most anti-democratic institutions – the Privy Council. The Privy Council even has the power to suspend Parliament without the need for a nasty coup. It has other powers that are still a state secret.
Corbyn could have refused to go to the Privy Council at all, saying he did not recognise it as a legitimate democratic body. Such a protest would have certainly annoyed the Labour Right and the right wing media, but would have won plaudits from many of those who voted for him, and provided people with a wider political education. Taking this course of action would also have shown up the Elizabrit-loving Alex Salmond, who regularly attends the Privy Council. But Corbyn is only a closet republican. So this doesn’t affect his public politics, meaning that, in effect, he does not uphold the sovereignty of the people but accepts the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Westminster.
We can see the influence on Corbyn of another aspect of shared Right/Left Labour politics – their unionism. Cameron stabbed ‘One Nation’ Miliband in the back, within hours of the ‘September 18th ‘No’ victory. He called for ‘English Votes for English Laws’ (later implemented) to undermine the possibility of any future Labour government dependent on a significant Scottish Labour contingent at Westminster – remember this was before the 2015 Westminster general election! Following this, Miliband was forced into a further humiliating retreat in the run-up to that election. He was pressured into declaring that he would rather have a Tory government than make a pact with the SNP to implement his own very mild social democratic manifesto. He lost all but one of his Scottish Labour MPs.
Miliband is an openly declared ‘One Nation’ unionist, and no prizes for guessing which ‘nation’, or rather state, that would be! So you might have thought that Corbyn, as a Left winger, would be able to challenge this approach. The opportunity came with the Holyrood elections this year. However, Corbyn is a Left British unionist and shares a particular metropolitan blind spot with many on the ‘Brit Left’. He was unable to learn anything from Miliband’s earlier experience.
Corbyn ignored the fact that, after 2015 general election, it was the 56 SNP MPs he and his much smaller band of Labour dissidents joined with in the Westminster opposition lobbies, before he was elected Labour leader. In acknowledgement of sharing more with the SNP than Cameron and Miliband over some key policies, Corbyn could have said that Labour was prepared to come to an agreement with the SNP over a second Scottish independence referendum. If the SNP leaders wanted to include this in their Holyrood manifesto, and went on to be elected as the next Scottish government, Corbyn could have agreed to recognise their democratic mandate to do so and argue at Westminster for this to be facilitated. This would not have bound him in advance to recommending a particular voting option in the referendum itself. He could have left that to Scottish Labour to decide in the future.
Ironically, such a stance would have upstaged the incumbent SNP government (as would an earlier refusal to recognise the Privy Council). At this stage, the SNP leadership was wishing to avoid any commitment to a second independence referendum. Corbyn’s unionism blinded him to the possibility of finding a potential lifeboat for the Scottish Labour Party. Now, it was still unlikely that supporting the SNP over a second referendum could have prevented the loss overboard of many Labour MSPs in that Holyrood election. Scottish Labour was still reeling from the damage inflicted on them by their leader, Jim Murphy, during the 2015 Westminster election, and particularly from Labour’s collaboration with Cameron in ‘Better Together’ between 2012-14. However, the election result could hardly have been any worse than the severe drubbing Scottish Labour took. They lost most of their Holyrood first-past-the-post seats to the SNP and fell behind the Scottish Conservatives led by Davidson the Tory ‘Tank Commander’ – the final ignominy!
Another major climb-down came when the Labour Right, assisted by some Zionist, Labour Friends of Israel MPs and members, railroaded Corbyn into suspending one of his most experienced and well-known allies, Ken Livingstone (7). Corbyn and McDonnell also support Palestinian self-determination, which would upset the UK’s relationship with Israel. Like the SNP, Corbyn and McDonnell are likely to question the government’s continued support for Saudi Arabia, given its brutal role in the Yemen war. After Israel, Saudi Arabia is the most important US/British imperial asset in the Middle East. Thatcher and her family were particular assiduous in cultivating this link. Saudi Arabia remains a source of major arms contracts sustaining the British war industry. This industry will also be considerably boosted by any Trident renewal contracts. The British ruling class doesn’t like non-insiders like Corbyn and McDonnell thinking they can have a say on British foreign and war policies.
Now, the EU referendum has provided the Labour Right with an opportunity to ditch Corbyn. If a split in Labour does occur, with the PLP going its own way, and a new Left Labour Party emerges, then the only way anything of longer term political benefit can come out of this, is if the new organisation goes beyond the implementation of democratic internal party organisation. It would need to champion the sovereignty of the people and campaign for a democratic revolution, not only in the UK, but across Europe too. That would mean questioning the whole basis of British social democracy, where ‘democracy’ is equated with the reactionary and decadent Westminster. This set-up is defended in usual British unionist manner by Right and Left as the ‘Mother of Parliaments’, rather than being criticised as acting as a the locus of patrician power, privilege and prejudice, over which the ‘Butchers’ Apron’ always flies.
Taking such an oppositional stance would mean adopting a social republican and ‘internationalism-from-below’ immediate programme. A democratic revolution is needed so that economic and social reforms can be sustained without determined opposition from within all the unreformed parts of the state, which act as such an obstacle today. And, to provide greater freedom from external pressure, a recognition of the need for ‘Another Europe’ would also need to be very much part of such a programme too.
The Labour Party has always focussed its attentions upon Westminster, and upon local councils. More recently this has been extended to Westminster’s devolved offspring at Holyrood and Cardiff Bay. This is understandable in a party that largely accepts the existing UK state. Sadly, the revolutionary ‘Brit Left’, with far less excuse, shares this lack of interest in the anti-democratic nature of the UK state. Whenever issues like the Union, or the state’s Crown Powers are raised, these are dismissed as a diversion from the ‘bread and butter’ issues of real concern to the working class. This is an eerie echo of the Labour Right, who actively work to ensure that working class only look to their narrower economic interests, and leave politics to the politicians; and those Tories who think that ordinary British subjects should leave politics to their ‘betters’.
There is very little comprehension in the Labour Left that the nature of the state might itself put huge limits upon what can be achieved over economic and social issues. Wanting to tail-end the Labour Left, the SWP and the SP also concentrate their attentions upon getting rid of the Tories. The EU referendum result, conducted in such a Right wing political atmosphere, did indeed get rid of Cameron as Tory leader. However a potentially even more Right wing bunch of Tories has just emerged as leadership candidates. But the idea of raising demands to oppose the UK state never enters the ‘bread and butter’ brains of the Labour Left, the SWP or the SP.
Back in the late 1960s, similar thinking found its political expression amongst Northern Irish Civil Rights Movement supporters. They also concentrated on the ‘bread and butter’ issues. A few, though, did want to bring down the rogue Stormont Orange statelet and have it replaced by Westminster direct rule, as in Scotland and Wales. They got their wish, but the UK state proved not to be any advance, with behind-the-scenes state backing for loyalist death squads, daily harassment of Irish nationalists; new housing plans subjected to military scrutiny, and new public parks shared with armed and hostile soldiers.
The gunning down of 14 civil rights demonstrators in Derry in January 1972 had already begun a shift towards a number of republican perspectives. Tragic events led to a hothouse schooling or ‘Republicanism for fast learners’. The political trajectory of Bernadette Devlin/McAliskey from Civil Rights campaigner and Left nationalist unity candidate to openly declared socialist republicanism highlights the very best aspects of this change. Such republicanism, also found in the ‘communities of resistance’, went considerably beyond its more narrow military expressions. Republicanism is not tied to military forms (as so many British and Scottish Right and Left politicians like to maintain to avoid any criticism of the UK state). Republicanism’s particular form of expression reflects the nature of the political, social and cultural opposition needed to address the particular situation faced at any given time.
viii) Active Boycott – the missing option in the EU referendum
There was one particular political weakness shared by Corbyn, his supporters in Momentum, the wider ‘Brit Left’, including the Left Unity Party (in England and Wales – its few Scottish members had decamped to Scottish Labour, hoping that Corbyn could rescue the Union) and RISE in Scotland. The possibility of mounting a mass ‘Boycott’ campaign was not considered.
Even the media could see that the EU referendum had been contrived in an attempt to hold the Conservative/Tory Party together in the face of UKIP’s Right challenge. This resulted in a blue-on-blue bun fight, where incredibly, the two main contenders, Cameron and Johnson, had attended the same Oxford university college and exclusive, male only Bullingdon Club. What are the statistical chances of that happening and what does it say about the whole Westminster set-up? If ever there was a case for a Boycott campaign to discredit anti-democratic Westminster, then this was it.
Lexiters failed to point out the discriminatory nature of the EU referendum franchise (its a moot point if the Left populist Brexiters even cared, given their accommodation to the anti-migrant sentiment of the majority of Brexiters). 1.6 million non-UK EU residents were excluded from the EU referendum with the agreement of the future ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ participants and ‘Project Hate’ leaders. There was also a failure to extend the vote to 16-18 year olds, whose future lives would be so affected. Yet both of these groups had been included in the franchise for the Scottish independence referendum. This provides another indicator of its progressive nature compared with the reactionary nature of the EU referendum.
The newly-elected Corbyn and his Momentum backers could have called for an active ‘Boycott’. This could have mobilised many thousands, using all the razzamatazz of many recent campaigns, such as Occupy, and invited migrant workers’ families with their own lively traditions of protest. Billboard posters and millions of ‘Stuff Both Sets of Tories’ stickers could have been produced for use on the ballot papers .
Such a ‘Boycott’ campaign would also have highlighted the Conservative/Tory Right/UKIP nature of the EU referendum campaign, putting considerable pressure on Left populist Brexiters and Lexiters who would have been seen as deserting to the Right wing camp. It would also have put pressure on the LUP and other Left Remainers, who tend to follow Corbyn, because he has largely adopted their ‘transitional’ Left social democratic, neo-Keynesian policies and left them high and dry.
An independent ‘Boycott’ campaign in Scotland could have countered the SNP leadership’s own massive illusion-mongering in the effectiveness of the EU as some sort of inherently progressive body. With a mass supported ‘Boycott’ campaign, both Lexiters, mostly influenced by their London central offices, and SSP Remainers would probably have fallen behind a ‘Boycott’ too. As it was, this division in RISE’s ranks paralysed any intervention at all. Broad-based support for a Boycott could also have won over Scoxiters, maybe even some Left populist Brexiters (the Morning Star revealed the tensions in their ranks).
Instead, ‘Boycott’ was left to politically marginal Left groups. This ensured that such a campaign could amount to little more than abstract propagandism. Abstract propagandism is when political sects or individuals decide that that their own chosen policies are particular shibboleths, which must be upheld, whatever the political circumstances, e.g. the 1938 Transitional Programme in 2016 for the ultra-orthodox Trotskyists. Abstract propagandism finds corresponding forms amongst those anarchists always insisting on direct action, and those dissident Irish republicans always prioritising armed struggle – the ‘propaganda of the deed’.
ix) Brexit and two ‘blowbacks’
The two main Brexit campaigns have been prepared to take the existing government-promoted anti-migrant and Islamophobic offensive on to an entirely new level. The way for this had already been prepared by the Conservative government’s exclusion of non-UK EU residents from the franchise, Cameron’s sordid deal over immigration with Tusk and the EU, and the new 2016 Immigration Act. The aim was to slowly increase the numbers from elsewhere in the EU in the second tier of the UK workforce, and to open them up to greater exploitation and state harassment, in order to intimidate them and prevent any successful organisation. These moves were largely unopposed by Labour.
The Brexiters, however, wanted to rapidly and massively reduce the status of all non-UK EU residents, thus making them subject to the new Immigration Bill. These migrants would only be tolerated as long as they were economically required, also leaving the way open for greater numbers to be subjected to state harassment. There would still be the third tier of ‘illegals’, who would remain a super-exploited workforce at the mercy of gangmeisters and other crooks. The Brexiter anti-migrant and anti-asylum seeker policies could then be used to exert far more pressure on the wages and conditions of the first tier workforce formed from British subjects, since migrant workers, living in fear, would be far harder to organise, and could be used to provide cover for a more general ‘race to the bottom’, through scapegoating by British chauvinist and racist forces stretching from the neo-fascists to the Labour Right.
The mounting overt racism of the Brexit campaigners made immigration a toxic issue for the official Remainers. They wanted to concentrate their ‘Project Fear’ upon the economy and downgrade immigration to an aspect of economic policy and not talk about the migrants themselves. This self-denying ordinance was not practised by many leading Brexiters. They had very definite British chauvinist and racist views about immigrants they wanted to get across. So the Brexiter ‘brats’ grabbed the Conservative and New Labour adulterated ‘immigration’ parcel, and ran off with it, with no intention of only slowly savouring its contents under approved adult supervision.
‘Blowback’ dramatically struck the official Remainers. UKIP unveiled their notorious Breaking Point poster on June 15th. Jo Cox was killed the following day. Since June 24th, there has been an escalation in hate crimes, with some now beginning to look more organised. This could provide new cover for more organised Far Right groups.
When ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ spokespersons were reluctantly forced to provide some verbal defence of migrants, it was nearly always on narrowly economic grounds – migrants are good for ‘our’ British economy – whilst dismissing the Brexiters’ overt racism by adopting a superior moralising tone. Defending people’s freedom of movement was never part of their campaign. Any celebration of immigrants’ cultural contribution was very much downplayed, especially when associated with opposition to such typical ‘British values’ as state promoted wars and support for brutal regimes.
Many on the Left could see the warnings of such a political outcome at an earlier stage. In the absence of a coordinated mass Boycott campaign, a very reluctant ‘Remain’ vote seemed to provide the best way to offer some temporary protection to migrants. This did not mean giving support to Cameron’s sordid deal with the EU. The ballot paper only asked people whether they wanted to ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ the EU. As the Thousand Flowers blog (8) so pithily put it – living in the “The Shitty Corporate Status Quo”, for a hopefully short period, is still preferable to entering the “Dark Ages” for a considerably longer time. That “shitty corporate” UK/EU is hardly a defence based on any EU illusions. Even many of those currently mobilising behind the various post-referendum ‘Remain’ banners are doing this not as an expression of support for the EU as such, but as a rejection of the Right-wing nature of Brexit. I would far rather be at these demonstrations as an organised group putting forward the idea that ‘Another Europe is Possible’ than turn up at demonstration of FUKers expecting a warm embrace!
The length of any political respite, in the event of a ‘Remain’ vote, would have depended on our ability to organise. However, the Brexit result has not given us this. Nevertheless there are encouraging signs. There as been a willingness to defend migrant workers and the re-emergence of the questioning of the UK’s unionist state. This has reopened up the heady prospect of a kick restart of the democratic revolution of 2012-14. This has been highlighted most obviously in Scotland, but can also be seen in a more contested context in Northern Ireland. Scotland has witnessed a renewed ‘Anti-Unionism for Slow Learners’ as the British scales falls from many unionists’ eyes. This outcome had just not been anticipated by any of the Brexiters, including the Lexiters and Scoxiters, who, of course, like Johnston and Farage also wanted an all-UK Brexit.
Johnson had only wanted to become the new Tory leader and PM. He has always been quite prepared to strike a new ‘Cameron-plus’ deal with the EU. Farage, as a populist, did not want to be bogged down with any concrete plans for Brexit, preferring to have freedom for manoeuvre backed by new populist mobilisations, the tabloid press, and resort to the most reactionary features of the UK state to stifle the inevitable opposition.
Now the Brexiters are being confronted with their own ‘blowback’, with mounting opposition, particularly in Scotland, Northern Ireland and London. Many young people are very pro-European (and not necessarily pro-EU). Many had so little confidence in the Westminster set-up they saw little point in voting in the referendum. Instead they have since demonstrated in London Occupy-style and made their voice felt at ‘Remain’ Glastonbury. We need a vibrant cultural expression for any renewed democratic revolution. As James Connolly once said, “Until the movement is marked by the joyous, defiant, singing of revolutionary songs, it lacks one of the most distinctive marks of a popular revolutionary movement, it is the dogma of a few, and not the faith of the multitude” (9). Neither the traditional Left Remainers, nor the Brexiters, anticipated the potential of this new force, which, in its collective expression, could be more significant than those individuals who voted and were thwarted in their hopes. The Brexiters could well have overplayed their hand.
The first Brexit casualty has been Johnson himself, now hounded by Londoners, chastened Tories and the media for the increasingly unstable political situation his reckless ambition and publicity-seeking has led to. He has been followed by Farage, who may nevertheless be retained behind the scenes by some on the Tory Right. The Conservative Party is trying to cobble together a new unity leadership, made up from Leavers and Remainers, to fend off FUKers to their Right and the prospect of the break-up of the UK to their Left. In the process they could reach out to the Labour Right, to shore up their defence of the UK, the City of London and British capital.
This could possibly lead to Westminster asserting its constitutional supremacy with a rejection of the referendum result. Whether this is done in an aloof patrician manner before a general election, or given a more acceptable fig-leaf through having one, it would provide a very real shock for those who have idolised the whole reactionary Westminster set-up – maybe even a ‘Republicanism for very slow learners’!
Nevertheless, not having provided any Brexit plans, Tory Right wingers and Farage can hardly complain, especially if the general election option is taken. The Tory Right, now also more openly questioning Cameron’s social liberalism, is also likely to show its hand soon. UKIP members, even at the highest level, have little to say though when it comes to submitting any coherent plan in, or should that be at, Nigel’s party! Hopefully only the most myopic on the Brit Left would campaign alongside a thoroughly enraged Far Right for Brexit to be implemented if not today, then tomorrow. However, a myopic ‘Brit Left’ is always likely to resurface – remember their support for the Stalin-Hitler Pact from 1939-41, and for the Great Russian ‘red’-brown alliances in occupied eastern Ukraine today (10).
x) The political weaknesses of the ‘Remain’ camp in Scotland
Unlike Corbyn and his Momentum allies, still mired in the Westminster swamp, the SNP’s limited anti-unionism does lead the party to question important aspects of the Westminster set up. This includes the House of Lords and its first-past-the-post electoral system. The behaviour of the UK state and its official medium, the BBC, during the Scottish independence campaign has embedded a much deeper suspicion towards Westminster than is found amongst Left British unionists. This is why the SNP has made some very hesitant steps along the very start of the road to democratic revolution. However, the more deeply rooted, UK and British imperial accommodating side of the SNP politics, coupled to their desire to keep Scottish business on board, will continually push them off that road.
In practice, the SNP government does not invoke the principle of the sovereignty of the people, but draws its mandate from the powers at, or devolved from, Westminster. Here the sovereignty of the Crown-in-parliament is the underlying principle. There is no constitutional right to self-determination. The only reason Cameron conceded an independence referendum in 2102 was because all the Unionist parties thought that together they would trounce both Scottish independence and see off the “insufferable cocky” then leader of SNP – Alex Salmond.
But, even then, there was opposition from the Tory Right and from UKIP to holding any referendum. Until recently, some had still not even come to terms with the existence of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly established back in 1998. It was only when UKIP linked up with reactionary and populist unionists and loyalists in Northern Ireland’s new Stormont that they learned about the possibility of disrupting the workings of devolved institutions from within (11). The harder unionists are likely to be more strongly placed, and even receive support from neo-Blairite Labour MPs, now they have virtually nothing to lose in Scotland. Back in 1997 Blair saw the role for a devolved Scottish parliament as being like that of a “parish council” (12).
Straight after the EU referendum result was announced, Nicola Sturgeon coolly responded to the prospect of ‘Project Chaos’ in the UK. The SNP government appeared to many on the international political stage to be the most stable element in UK politics. The large Scottish ‘Remain’ vote allowed SNP MSP, Alyn Smith, to make an impassioned and well-received pro-EU speech at Strasbourg on June 27th. Sturgeon has declared that the Scottish government is now preparing for a second Scottish independence referendum to ensure continued EU membership. Enthusiasm has been aroused, not only amongst Scottish nationalists, but even amongst some formerly unionist Remainers.
However, this disguises the main purpose of Sturgeon’s move. The SNP leadership acts in the interests of a Scottish ruling class in-the-making. Their long-term strategy is to win over more and more Scottish-based business figures. This involves a long march through the institutions of the existing UK state. The SNP gained control of Holyrood in 2011, and hope to win control of the major Scottish city and Central Belt local councils in the 2017 local elections. This would then place most state patronage in Scotland in their hands. They could then attract business figures previously benefiting from unionist, particularly Scottish Labour, patronage. In addition, by winning most of the Scottish MPs in 2015, these MPs form a protective screen between Holyrood and Westminster, which the hapless Conservative Scottish Secretary, David Mundell can do little about.
Over time, political power is meant to end up in SNP hands and economic power in the hands of Scottish business. The effect of this is that any emerging ‘Scottish Free State’ would resemble the old Scottish-British statelet, only decked out with saltires instead. If you replace ‘Dublin Castle’ with ‘Edinburgh Castle’ and ‘England’ with ‘global corporate power’, then the socialist republican, James Connolly, had already anticipated this scenario as far back as 1897 – ” If you… hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle…. England would still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country” (13).
The SNP government does not want to ‘frighten the horses’. They also know the UK government is reluctant to invoke the EU’s Article 50, in order to extend the two years it provides to conduct the EU negotiations. If these are successful in the SNP leadership’s eyes, they could drop that independence referendum, citing falling support amongst recent Scottish unionist Remainers. The prime purpose of any SNP input to the EU negotiations will be to wangle further concessions from a UK government, and to use any divisions between the UK and EU to exert greater leverage and achieve some Scottish presence on the EU top table.
Thus the SNP government will be very pleased with any demonstrations that place their primary emphasis on ‘Remain’, since this goes along with their plans. Indeed, this is a repeat of their stance in the Scottish independence referendum, when the SNP government’s ‘Independence-Lite’, White Paper proposals were deliberately framed to leave the bureaucratic and imperial rUK intact; just as their ‘Remain’ proposals will offer nothing or very little to change the bureaucratic and “shitty corporate” controlled EU.
And indeed, given the relative weight of the two economies – Scotland and the EU as a whole – and without having a non-institutional internationalist perspective, it is difficult to see how else this could be. In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, the current Conservative government is already being reminded of the relative strengths of the UK and EU economies. It is sterling that is falling relative to the euro. Indeed, it was the decline of the UK economy and the loss of much of the British Empire and its trade, which pushed a somewhat reluctant British ruling class and Heath’s Conservatives into the arms of the EEC in 1973 in the first place.
Both British and transnational capitals’ need for the EU has been turbo-charged by the resurrection of the City of London, particularly since the ‘Big Bang’ deregulation of the City in 1986, and the attraction of banks from the EU (and elsewhere). It is the economic power of the City that has prevented the UK from slipping further down the global economic ladder. However, maintaining the City’s world-leading financial centre status, which UK state support for sterling underwrites, has only been achieved at devastating cost to industrial production. Many in the former industrial headlands are now living in a Thatcherite wasteland. If the EU leaders play hardball and seek to remove the licenses for European banks currently operating in the City, as has been threatened in the event of Brexit, this could only be offset by the City becoming a completely deregulated offshore financial haven. This would mean totally subordinating all remaining industrial and commercial activity to that aim, further pushing down wages and conditions to achieve this.
Any UK government would be extremely reluctant to permit an independent Scotland within the EU, in case Edinburgh’s financial centres took business away from the City. And the City has never shown any reluctance to provide backing for the type of government anywhere in the world, no matter how unsavoury, required to meet its needs!
Unless the SNP government receives some really powerful institutional backing from the EU or the USA, then it is unlikely that an even more Right-wing UK government will concede another Scottish independence referendum. This is the position that RIC-Edinburgh wanted to highlight at the RIC National Forum meeting in April 2014, when it urged RIC backing to support a citizens’ initiative all-Ireland referendum and Catalan citizen defiance of the Spanish state (still in General Franco’s Castilian supremacist mode). In Northern Ireland, unlike Scotland, there is currently constitutional provision for a unite with the ’26 Counties’ referendum, albeit not on an all-Ireland, but only on a ‘6 Counties’ basis – in effect a Border Poll. Yet, Theresa Villier’s very quick dismissal of Martin McGuinness’s call for such a referendum, after the ‘Remain’ vote in Northern Ireland, is perhaps an indication of the political problems ahead in Scotland too.
xi) The political weaknesses of the European Left over Brexit and the EU
However, another disturbing feature of the Brexit campaign is the attitude Lexiters and some others on the ‘Brit Left’ have adopted towards the EU. Taking an even more misguided stance than their welcoming of the Brexit campaign as an anti-Tory government protest, whilst ignoring or downplaying its dominant Right wing political nature, Lexiters have also suggested that support for Brexit amounted to opposition to the EU’s crushing of Greece; its refusal to allow access to refugees, its failure to stop the drowning of hundreds of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean; its setting up of the inhuman refugee camp at Calais; to its support for TTIP, and its determination to drive down pay and conditions.
To suggest that opposition to these crimes will be assisted by a ‘free UK’ is truly delusionary. The City of London behaved the same way as the EU back in 2008, but towards Iceland, which Gordon Brown declared a “terrorist state”. Iceland had refused to bow before the City’s demands. When it came to Ireland, British-based banks, particularly, the RBS and HBoS, have been enforcing home-owner evictions in collaboration of the Irish government. (Ireland has the ‘priviledge’ of being doubly done over – by both the Troika and the City!) None of the Brexit MPs or MEPs have shown any concern for the plight of drowning refugees in the Mediterranean, nor suggested sending British warships to assist their rescue. Brexiters attacked Cameron’s offer of a very limited number of Syrian asylum seeker places in the UK (far less than most other large EU states) as being too ‘generous’. The French state runs the Calais refugee camp on behalf of the British government. Schengen’s walls haven’t been built high enough for the British government, and Brexiters want them to be even higher. The principal Brexiter leaders are every bit as keen as the most EU leaders to sign up to TTIP. It has been successive UK governments, beginning with Thatcher, through New Labour to Cameron’s Conservatives that have been to the forefront of undermining social protection within the EU, by pressing for exemptions. Only this process hasn’t gone fast or far enough for the Brexiters.
An even greater leap into fantasy land is the belief that Brexit will provide a progressive example to other member states wanting to break away from the EU. Well, after June 24th there was no dancing and singing in Athen’s Syntagama Square. The first and unfortunately well-known non-UK person to celebrate Brexit was none other than the Right populist US Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump. With typical crassness he chose his new golf course at Turnberry in Scotland to declare his solidarity with Brexit. We couldn’t expect Lexiters to be there to applaud his Brexit solidarity, since even they could have not have expected Scotland to be Trump’s choice of place to do this. As Lily Allen pointed out, “Scotland voted IN, you moron” – a completely non-PC comment, but that’s what Trump tends to do to people! Another presidential hopeful, Marine Le Pen, of the French Far Right National Front, was the first significant European politician to proclaim her solidarity with Brexit.
In every EU state, where serious ‘break-up-the-EU’ forces exist, they are led either by the populist Right or the Far Right – the National Front in France, Alternative for Germany, the Swedish Democrats, the Danish Peoples Party, the True Finns, the Free Citizens Party in the Czech Republic, and Jobbik in Hungary. Even in Greece, the largest party advocating Grexit is the fascist Golden Dawn.
Brexit can not be seen in political isolation. The last significant global shift to the Right followed Thatcher and Reagan’s election victories in 1979 and 1980. However, this process started as far back as Chile in 1973, after General Pinochet’s CIA-backed coup, and his bringing in the Chicago Boys to begin what eventually developed into a global neo-liberal offensive. There was nothing inevitable about this process, but the election of Thatcher and Reagan probably tipped the balance. This led to the rolling out of transnational corporate neo-liberalism across much of the world.
Brexit has added to the possibility of a new significant shift further to the Right in Europe, although the fact that Trump has risen so far in the USA, shows that this Rightward shift could also take on a global form. We have seen the rise of the Far Right in eastern Europe for a number of years. Here the situation of rampant ethnic nationalism is beginning to resemble the eastern Europe of the pre-Second World War years. This is no longer confined to the east though. The rise of high-level Far Right politicians in Austria and France, also committed to ethnic nationalism, shows that this political descent into a ‘carnival of reaction’ is increasingly becoming a possibility. And their opposition to the EU is what unites these disparate and potentially antagonistic forces. They fear that the free movement of migrants in the EU will bring about a new Europe, which makes greater political, economic and social unity inevitable. This is why they are mounting a pre-emptive political counter-revolution now.
So how do we explain the fact that there are others on the European revolutionary Left who share the British Lexiters’ bizarre break-up-the-EU position? Antarsya in Greece is pro-Grexit. Its opportunity for an electoral breakthrough came after Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza-led government’s abject climb down before the EU’s ECB and Council of Ministers on the 12th July 2015. However, in the following September general election Antarsya’s vote only went up from 0.43% to 0.72%. Yes, this vote is in the same marginal bracket as that of RISE in Scotland in the Holyrood elections of May of this year. RISE leaders hoped their electoral alliance would become Scotland’s Syriza, or perhaps now its Podemos. However, unlike Antarsya, with the open goal of the Syriza climb down, RISE faced Sturgeon and the SNP still on the political ascent.
Back in Greece, though, Tsipras’ Syriza and its allies won that September election, albeit on a much-reduced turnout. The biggest Grexit voting increase was for the fascist Golden Dawn, which went up from 6.3% to 7.0% (still mercifully no breakthrough). Greek people, not surprisingly, have the highest distrust of the EU of any member country. But even this was not enough to push the majority of the Greek people into support for an isolationist Grexit, because they can see quite clearly that there is no state or significant international organisation in place to help them (and certainly not the City of London!).
There are other EU Lexiters. The Left Bloc in Portugal and the People’s Movement Against the EU in Denmark also support withdrawal from the EU. Here the traditional anti-EU stance of the old pre-1989 official communist parties, with their ‘socialism in one country’ politics, have been passed on and continue to have an influence. The much smaller Communist Party of Ireland is also anti-EU. However, it was about the only Left party not to make gains in the Dail elections in April this year, despite the woeful austerity impact of the Troika on Ireland.
‘Irexit’ did not figure in the April Irish general election manifestoes of either the Irish SWP’s front organisation, People Before Profit (PBP), nor that of the Socialist Party of Ireland’s front organisation, the Anti-Austerity Alliance. This probably contributed to their welcome electoral success, helping to create a political space to the left of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, and making it much harder for these two traditional Irish parties to form governments.
When the PBP also successfully stood in the Stormont elections in May, neither Brexit nor ‘Irexit’ appeared in its manifesto either. Here the election of two PBP MLAs represented a welcome and critical rejection of Sinn Fein’s continued communal divvying up of Westminster’s devolved-to-Stormont austerity axe. They do this in collaboration with the DUP, their Stormont partners in government. However, the PBP’s Stormont manifesto also had nothing to say about the constitutionally entrenched sectarianism underpinning the post-Good Friday Agreements. Instead the PBP puts sectarianism solely down to the existence of overtly unionist and nationalist parties, and the support they receive. PBP wants to oppose sectarianism through an updated version of the politics of James Connolly’s old adversary in Belfast – William Walker and his ‘gas and water’ socialism – only now rebranded for 2016 as anti-austerity politics. This approach ignores the particularly reactionary nature of the state in Northern Ireland. In the year of the 1916 Rising centenary, this represents a considerable retreat from the need to challenge this, recognised by Connolly.
In Portugal and Catalunya (where the left wing, Popular Unity Candidacy (PUC) also supports withdrawal) there are no significant Right wing anti-EU parties, so this probably contributes to their current thinking (as well of course as the old official Communist Party ‘socialism in one country’ legacy). However, when Antarsya, the Left Bloc and the PUC celebrate the Brexit vote, they are doing no favours to Greek, Portuguese and Catalan migrants living in the UK. Indeed, they seem to have ignored the fact that these migrants were kept off the EU referendum franchise and have become subjected to increased attacks after the Brexit vote.
Should Antarsya, the Left Bloc or PUC ever be in a position to lead their countries out of the EU, this could initially represent an example of a Left breakaway. However, this is when the weakness of anarcho-bureaucratic politics would reveal itself most starkly. For many anarchists, where ever spontaneous revolts takes place, either locally or nationally, these provide an alternative vision of what amounts to ‘socialism in one country’. Anarchism, which has considerably influenced the movementist PUC, argues that just striking such an initial blow would itself provide an inspiring example for those others in other localities and countries to follow.
Immediately, after the October Revolution in 1917, a certain Leon Trotsky, rushed to Brest Litovsk near the Eastern War Front to negotiate a peace settlement with the German generals. Trotsky, although no anarchist, then also held to the view that the heroic actions of the Russian workers and peasants would inspire resistance behind the German lines. So, in between negotiations, he sent off inspiring missives addressed to German soldiers and workers. However, workers and soldiers were still either heavily policed by the German security forces at home or by the German High Command at the fronts, so there was no immediate prospect of a domestic revolutionary challenge. Despite the probable widespread passive sympathy for the Russian Revolution and the hope of peace, no practical solidarity emerged. As the German army continued to advance deep into Russia, Trotsky didn’t ‘do a Varoufakis’ and resign, but Lenin certainly ‘did a Tsipras’ and ensured that the draconian Treaty of Brest Litovsk was signed tout-suite on 3rd March 1918. Brest Litovsk made Tsipras’ deal with the EU look like a good bargain! Only the defeat of Germany in November of that year led to the scrapping of the Treaty of Brest Litovsk.
What the Communists of the day learned from Brest Litovsk was the need for effective international organisations before any planned risings against the capitalist imperial order. The Third International was founded between March 2nd-6th in 1919 in recognition of this. At that time, the notion of ‘socialism in one country’, that still underpins the politics of the bureaucratic Communists today, had not arisen. This idea only developed in the national Communist parties after the defeat of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave. Stalin ensured that this became official CPSU and hence Comintern policy. Many were imprisoned in gulags or were executed for opposing this turn. They had to be ruthlessly suppressed, precisely because internationalism had been revolutionary common sense up until then. The isolationist economic consequences of ‘socialism in one country’ were shown in Stalin’s USSR, and later in Albania and North Korea – not particularly attractive models to inspire others!
Today, in an even more globalised world, we need to take international organisation seriously. That certainly doesn’t mean adopting the Third International model. This soon degenerated into being the Party-bureaucratic led Comintern, reflecting the interests of the dominant state – the USSR. Instead, we need a more broadly based and thoroughly democratic international organisation in Europe (and not just the EU), based on the principle of advancing the European democratic revolution and of internationalism-from-below. Of course, in order to challenge the whole global imperial order, a global International is needed. But the economic, social and political realities, pulling workers and peoples together in Europe, make the initial creation of Europe-wide political and economic organisation an immediate and practical necessity.
All we have today are the sect-internationals, such as the United Secretariat for the Fourth International (which includes Socialist Resistance in LUP and Socialist Democracy in Ireland), the International Socialist Tendency (which includes the British and the Irish SWPs) and the Committee for a Workers International (which includes the Socialist Party in England and Wales, the Socialist Party of Scotland and the Socialist Party of Ireland). They ‘cooperate’ in the European Anti-Capitalist Left (EACL). The EACL last contested the EU parliamentary elections in 2009. Not all of these sect-internationals backed this though. The Socialist Party opted for a Left British chauvinist alliance with the CPB in No2EU. In Scotland though, the SSP was part of the EACL’s international slate. In effect, the EACL acts as a diplomatic clearing house for the main affiliated sects. EACL holds less regular meetings than the old Second International, and shows far less capability to lead internationally organised action.
There is also the European Left Party (ELP), which includes the surviving communist (in reality social democratic) parties, some left social democrats and some Greens. However, the ELP bears much the same relationship to the European United Left-Nordic Green Left (GUE-NGL) EU parliamentary group, as the Labour Party does to the PLP. Hence extra-parliamentary activity and open democracy do not figure large!
Perhaps the model we need today should be more like the First International. It held its first congress, which was convened in Geneva in 1866, following an initial preparatory meeting in London in 1864, which Karl Marx attended. The protection of national and migrant workers, through effective organisation to prevent scabbing in strikes, was a high priority. The idea of the sort of immigration controls, proposed by some Left Brexiters, would have been completely alien to the First International. Providing effective support for the anti-slavery forces in the American Civil War, the prisoners of the Polish and aborted Fenian Risings and, of course, for the Paris Commune of 1871, demonstrated another aspect of the First International’s international solidarity.
Even back then, though, some of the organisations affiliating to the First International displayed the two sides of anarcho-bureaucratic politics. The anarchist Mikhail Bakunin developed the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, his own secretly led sect. Bureaucratic tendencies were shown by some of the affiliated trade unions. After the defeat of the Paris Commune, the First International fell apart. In these new political circumstances, Marx himself became pretty unscrupulous in his conduct within it. But at least he had the sense to assist in the First International’s termination, rather than have it degenerate into the sort of sect-internationals we are left with today. That job was left at the time to Bakunin.
xii) The nature of the EU – European ‘bosses club’ or club for the bigger national powers in Europe?
The EU has developed in various phases since Alcide de Gaspieri (Italy), Jean Monnet (France), Robert Schumann (Luxemburg) and Paul-Henri Spaak (Belgium), first envisaged it, in the devastated Europe following the Second World War. If a somewhat utopian bourgeois united European vision inspired these four original founders, this had to be rapidly adjusted to meet the political realities after the Second World War. These realities included the domination of the USA over western Europe, with its occupying troops, particularly in a divided Germany, and its bases in several more countries. By 1949, NATO had been created to ensure more effective USA hegemony and to oppose the USSR.
Furthermore, there were also the specific national and imperial interests to be accommodated (particularly those of France, Belgium and the Netherlands). France, once it had recovered from the effects of the war, and no longer required US support in Vietnam (after being defeated in 1953), withdrew from NATO in 1959. France was the dominant state in the EEC. President de Gaulle’s withdrawal decision was taken partly in response to the USA, which had continued its Special (albeit very one-sided) Relationship with the then non-EEC member – the UK.
The UK was completely reliable when it came to serving US imperial interests. This is one tradition the UK has stuck stubbornly too, and it has survived the US condemnation of UK actions in Suez in 1956, criticisms over UK policy in Ireland, initial wavering over the Falklands/Malvinas in 1981, and completely ignoring Thatcher, when it came to the invasion of Grenada in 1983. Once admitted into the EEC, after De Gaulle’s departure, the UK became the main promoter of US-backed imperial and corporate policies within the EEC/EU, later backed, after 1989, by many new Right wing, and anti-Russian, east European governments.
Germany took longer to recover economically after the Second World War, having been militarily occupied and divided – West and East. However, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, and the decade-long completion of the transition to full reunification, Germany has clearly emerged as the leading power in the EU. It has concentrated more upon advanced industrial development. This has contributed to its strong economic position compared to that of the UK. This has ensured that those eastern European states that tend to gravitate towards the UK and US politically, are restrained by their economic dependence on Germany.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that the US still retains military bases in Germany, and that Germany has not yet been allowed to develop its own nuclear forces. In this imperial arena, Germany lies behind France and the UK. Nor has Frankfurt been able to overtake Paris, and certainly not the City of London, as a global financial hub. However, with the UK’s Brexit vote, it is not hard to guess where the threat to remove EU-member banks’ licenses to operate outside the EU comes from. This would strengthen Frankfurt (and Paris and potentially Dublin) and the Bundesbank, the biggest participant in the EU’s European Central Bank.
The EU has been termed a ‘bosses club’, but it has very few state powers and a small administration, even if its MSPs and senior bureaucrats are highly priviledged. Most of the EU’s power is in the hands of its member states, including tax collecting and the armed forces. This is not something that any full-blown capitalist state could countenance. The EU is a treaty organisation, not a powerful unified state, hence the central role given to the Council of Ministers.
If you want to find a more integrated ‘bosses club’, then the UK state provides the world’s first and longest standing example. “Taking back control” from the EU in a ‘free UK’ means considerably reinforcing the UK’s anti-democratic state. As the vehicle for their other reactionary socio-economic policies, “taking back control” was the first thing promoted by the Brexiters. This control is based upon the anti-democratic powers given to the British ruling class by Westminster’s first-past-the-post elections to the House of Commons, the House of Lords, the Privy Council, and the monarchy, which masks the state’s Crown Powers. Behind this ‘archaic’ front, the most repressive instruments of the state – the armed and security forces – have their technology and personnel training constantly modernised – feudal it is not! Westminster (and its devolved offspring at Holyrood, Cardiff and Stormont) is just as accommodating to corporate lobbying as Brussels and Strasbourg. The EU, like the UK, has certainly always been an upholder of capitalism, but it has also been flexible over the forms adopted to uphold this. Neo-liberalism is only a relatively recent phenomenon. It only took real hold upon the EU though, considerably later than when it had become de rigeur in the UK.
After the Second World War, the UK had developed as a social monarchist (and still imperialist) welfare state, providing some real benefits for the working class. In pre-Thatcher days, both the British Labour and Conservative Parties supported this. This was known as Butskellism. During the same period the EEC, forerunner to the EU, promoted hybrid social liberal/social democratic policies and institutions, backed by the European Christian Democrat and Social Democrat parties.
However, as the power of global corporations has grown, particularly since the 1970s economic crisis, they have become much more organised to get round effective state regulation. Their increased power and influence has led national parties and states to adopt social liberal politics and neo-liberal economics. In Europe, neoliberalism first took deep root in the UK under Thatcher, in alliance with the US. Thatcher and Reagan, though, eschewed social liberalism and supported neo-conservative policies, e.g. on gays and abortion rights. Under Blair, the UK, whilst still pushing ahead of the EU field on neo-liberal economics, began to catch up on social liberal policies. Nevertheless, with Thatcher, Major and Blair all ditching Keynesian economics and welfare provision, the UK’s continued EU membership ensured that its peripheral nations and regions continued to benefit from EU funding. Workers and others benefited from this social provision. In Germany and France, trade unions had remained stronger than in the UK, following Thatchers’s anti-union offensive. So they were able to put more social democratic/social market pressure on these states and hence the EEC/EU than British unions were able to do upon the UK, which, of course, was already pursuing a completely neo-liberal agenda both domestically and within the EU at this time.
This explains the shift of many Labour Party and trade union officials from an anti-EEC to a pro-EU stance over this period. Politics in the UK had ended up to the Right of the main EU member states. Getting some crumbs of comfort from the EU ‘bakery’ seemed a lot easier than getting blood from the UK ‘stone’. The alternative was organising effective action. This was something far fewer trade union leaders were prepared to do after the crushing defeat of the 1984-5 Miners’ Strike. ‘New Realism’ took over, and the EU became part of the ‘dented shield’.
Since the 2008 Crash though, the EU has also been retreating to more neo-liberal forms of economics and politics. Nevertheless there is still some difference between the leading economy in the EU and the UK. Germany domestically provides its own more social ordo-liberal model, as a counter to the full-blown neo-liberal US/UK model.
The switch from the older social liberal/social democratic EEC and EU, to the more neo-liberal EU, has not been the result of some inbuilt neo-liberal drive imposed upon its member states, including the UK. For example, many member states have not only managed to hold on to their nationalised railway companies, but in the case of the Dutch nationalised company Abeilo, extend its operations to the UK! It was only because the Conservatives and Labour were so pro-privatisation, that British Rail was broken up. The SNP government has shown, even as recently as this year, that you can override the EU’s official tendering rules. They retained Calmac Ferries as a public service, albeit only after considerable trade union and local community opposition, when the private company SERCO made its bid.
Successive UK governments, committed to a Blatcherite neo-liberal consensus, had long been the principal force in pushing for a drive to the bottom in the EU. They have been backed, up to a point, by new Right wing eastern European political allies. They along, with the UK, have been the most fervent advocates of unquestioning support for US imperialism, highlighted during the Iraq War. This is one reason why the US State Department has been unhappy about the prospect of Brexit. Although, as over Suez in 1956 and the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, fences would be quickly mended, in the event of Brexit being implemented, especially as the Tory Right and UKIP want to increase NATO spending.
The economic policy gap between the UK and the rest of the EU grows ever narrower. However, in what still remains a member state (or at least its central member states) dominated EU, its current political trajectory has come about mainly as the result of the gradual replacement of the old national social democratic or Labour politicians by advocates of the newer more neo-liberal model. New nationally appointed Commissioners, national Ministers serving on the Council and nationally elected MEPs, have taken over. This, of course, has been greatly assisted by global corporate lobbying, which targets both the member states and the EU bureaucracy.
xiii) Should socialists help to Reform the EU or lead the European Democratic Revolution?
It is this possibility of internal political change in the EU that has led ex-Syriza Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, to push for the formation of a new political grouping, DieM25. He hopes to bring about EU reform by putting up anti-austerity candidates in the European elections, electing national governments that appoint reforming Ministers to the Council and sympathetic individuals to the Commission. The ’25’ in the name is an indication of DieM25’s long-term strategy. Varoufakis thinks it will take until 2025 to bring about the end of the pro-austerity politics that currently dominate the EU.
Unlike the ‘break-up-the-EU’ prospect offered by Lexiters in the UK and elsewhere in the EU, DieM25 provides a more convincing internationalist perspective. However, there are still political weaknesses to the DieM25 project. In many ways, Varoufakis’ strategy is an international projection of Corbyn and Momentum’s UK strategy. They both advocate a mixture of neo-Keynesian and social democratic policies, to be implemented by elected majorities to the institutions of the existing state, or in the case of the EU, a state-in-the-making. Both have hinted at some reform of their particular targeted state institutions. Varoufakis’ criticisms of the EU set-up go somewhat further than Corbyn’s in relation to the UK set-up. However, neither challenge the upholding of existing member states’ territorial integrity, which can give succour to particularly reactionary forces, for example, in British unionist UK and Castilian supremacist Spain.
Republican socialists do not see the institutions of the reactionary British unionist state as a suitable vehicle for effective reforms. One of the benefits of the beginnings of the democratic revolution in Scotland is that this understanding has become far more widespread than just the Left, although the British Left has been particularly myopic in seeing this. Following this appreciation of the shortcomings of the UK state, we should not see the bureaucratic institutions of the EU, or its existing state make-up, as forming such a vehicle either.
The 2012-14 Scottish independence referendum campaign, the continued demands for a Catalan referendum and the Greek people’s angry and defiant ‘Oxi’ vote must be seen as the first harbingers of a European Democratic Revolution. The EU bureaucrats and the various reactionary nationalist Exiters saw this potential threat and have acted accordingly. It is worrying when some of those declaring themselves to be revolutionary socialists can’t see this.
British Labour and Conservatives post-Second World War commitment to Butskellism in the UK lasted from 1945 until the later 1970s. Hence that Left nostalgia and their desire to get back on to that old national road. In the EEC, the Social Democrats’ and Christian Democrats’ shared economic and social policies lasted from the 1950s, but were still being advanced as late as Maastricht in 1991, albeit now as a sugar coating for a more corporate capitalist model. Left populist Brexiters and other EU member Lexiters base much of their politics on the obvious fact that the EU leadership is no longer able to promote policies which, even if indirectly, bring some benefits to workers and small farmers. Lexiters have largely ignored the anti-migrant intentions of the two main Brexit campaigns.
Socialists should be responding to the EU capitalist leaders’ abandonment of any meaningful European unity, other than around saving their own skins, by grabbing that European unity baton with both hands. To do this, we need to see the latent reality of a European Democratic Revolution. The EU bureaucrats, conservative British EU supporters (Eurosceptics) and the national chauvinist Brexiters (Europhobes) have seen this potential threat and acted accordingly. We saw the EU bureaucrats in action against the Greek people. The British ruling class also sought EU bureaucrats’ aid during the Scottish independence referendum.
Both see the reality of the growing economic and social integration and the increased scope for a European-wide working class challenge, beginning with EU migrants. Cameron’s Eurosceptics united with the Tory Right and UKIP Europhobes to ensure that, in contrast to the Scottish independence referendum, EU residents (along with 16-18 year olds) were excluded from the EU referendum franchise. They then became the prime target along with asylum seekers) particularly of the Brexit campaign. This has highlighted the main concern of British capital – the management and control of the wider working class brought about by membership of the EU. However, there were divisions between the Eurosceptics and the Europhobes about how far this could be taken in the current political situation.
In the initial deal, which Eurosceptic Cameron negotiated with Tusk and the EU bureaucracy, the Tories’ ongoing attacks on domestic welfare provision were linked with denying new EU migrants benefits for 4 years (even whilst they paid taxes). However, the Europhobic Brexiters want to add all of the 2.6 million EU migrants already living in the UK to those already subjected to the all the existing UK immigration laws. This would include the draconian new 2016 Immigration Act, which, amongst other things, virtually denies migrants any welfare provision.
Brexit would greatly augment numbers of people in the second tier – the tolerated members of the UK workforce. They would lose their existing recognised status, which stems from the UK being an EU member state. This would also have the potential to increase considerably the number in the third tier of the UK workforce – the undocumented ‘illegals’. As well as giving the employers the opportunity to cut everyone’s pay and conditions, their Brexit proposals would make trade union and social organisation across these groups much more difficult. One of the features of the 2016 Immigration Act is that the active ‘policing’ of migrants has been extended to a much greater range of UK subjects, e.g. landlords. This considerably increases the scope for ethnic/racial scapegoating, both by the state and hard Right.
The 2008 Crash has brought the UK and EU leaders closer together. Both agree on their need to offload the costs of the economic crisis on to the backs of the working class (and small farmers). But this has also accelerated the economic, social and political class divisions within the EU on national and more populist lines and now, after the Brexit vote, this is also happening within the UK.
The Lexiters’ stance, however, is like offering advice to workers preparing themselves for a major struggle against their bosses, not to join that struggle, but take their lead from those wide boys, on one side of the line, who say, “We can avoid that struggle if you come with us and find work in our new local arms-length management company”!
xiv) Socialists and the struggle for European Unity
The Lexiters in the EU seem to have forgotten that before the First World War, European Socialists saw the creation of a United States of Europe as their goal (14). Lexiters have developed their current perspective in the context of the past defeats of this prospect. First came Europe’s descent into intra-imperialist and intra-nationalist barbarism from 1914-18, when 8.5 million soldiers died and 21 million were wounded, with perhaps up to 10 million civilian deaths. After the collapse of the 1916-21 International Revolutionary Wave, various national ‘carnivals of reaction’ appeared, including, from an early stage, in partitioned Ireland, just as James Connolly had predicted. This was heralded by the Belfast pogroms from 1920-22. These national ‘carnivals of reaction’ developed quickly in eastern Europe, but also took hold of western European states, beginning, after Northern Ireland, with Mussolini’s Fascist Italy in 1923, Hitler’s Nazi Germany in 1933 and Franco’s Falangist Spain, 1936-39.
These ‘carnivals of reaction’ later gave way to a second and even greater bout of barbarism in the Second World War, between 1939-45 (albeit as today, barbarism had already taken hold in the ‘Third World’ with Italy’s brutal war on Abyssinia from 1935-6 and Japan’s war on China beginning in 1937), when 21 million soldiers and 48 million civilians died. The smaller gap between military and civilian casualties is explained by the even greater barbarity of ‘total war’. This period, though, was finished off with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, where the increasing disproportion between military and civilian deaths could be seen starkly and obscenely in the casualty figures – US bombers – 0 killed, the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, overwhelmingly civilians – 150,000 and 75,000 deaths respectively.
One very real difficulty, in making a reality out of a United States of Europe in 1914, was the limited material basis for doing so. Yes, there was the external framework of an already existing global market largely managed by European powers, but most economic production and political organisation was on a national basis. This ensured that, as capitalist competition increased in the run-up to 1914, it became expressed in the form of inter-imperialist rivalry and mounting national chauvinism.
This sentiment penetrated the Second International, either openly or shame-facedly. Neither the pious anti-war declarations, nor the large Sunday anti-war demonstrations, could effectively challenge this retreat. Most of the leaders of the Second International were tacitly aware of this, which is why they collapsed so ignominiously when the First World War was declared. It was only a small number of revolutionary social democrats (later to become communists) who upheld the vision of a United States of Europe.
However, there was one group in Europe before the First World War, though, who could be considered as forming the social core of a potential new European union. These were those Jewish people who lived across Europe, maintaining their own international links across national boundaries, and who contributed both greatly and disproportionally to a vibrant international culture, including the science and the arts. Amongst themselves, many Jews still spoke Yiddish, and if now mainly secular, still drew upon earlier Jewish radical tradition (as many non-Jewish socialists did when looking to earlier Christian radical traditions). Many Jews considered themselves to be either fully assimilated, or at least relatively well integrated, into the nations in which they lived (whilst many often moved and resettled in other European states). Looking back to their considerably less favourable situation in Europe a hundred years previously, they hoped that progress was now hardwired into the European set-up, even if it required some pushing. To do this many Jewish people joined the liberal, socialist and anarchist organisations found in the states where they lived.
Yet the pre-1914 order of imperial states proved not to be a framework within which Jewish people could provide the precocious social basis for a new United States of Europe. This was true whether they lived in dynastic empires like Austro-Hungary, Tsarist Russia, Prussian-Germany, the British UK and Belgium, or the imperial republic of France. That possibility was shattered by the outbreak of the First World War.
This situation was hardly improved by the new European set-up following the war, with the last treaty with Turkey as late as 19123. This led to the emergence of several new nation-states, in which ethnic nationalist politics dominated. Jewish people endured a two decades ‘carnival of reaction’ in Europe. During this period the vibrant cosmopolitan Ashkenazi Jewish communities, with their Yiddish-speaking and radical Jewish traditions, were under constant attack. This process culminated in the barbarism of the Nazis and their allies’ organised genocide of the Jews in the territories they occupied. In this context, the post Second World War triumph of the up-till-then, alternative, minority Zionist Jewish project of creating an exclusive state for Jewish people in Israel is understandable. However, the Zionists’ and Israeli state’s role in promoting its ‘own carnival of reaction’, following the Palestinian Naqba in 1948, shows that this was in no way justifiable.
From a socialist perspective today, the contemporary equivalent of those pre-1914 cosmopolitan Jewish communities in Europe, are the much larger, but as yet, less socially and politically connected, European migrant communities. There are at least 2.6 million non-UK EU residents living in the UK at the moment, and there are larger EU migrant communities, either in absolute or proportional terms, in other EU counties, particularly Germany and Sweden. There are 2.2 million UK migrants living elsewhere in the EU. These are in addition to the longer settled immigrant communities in states like the UK, France, the Netherlands and Denmark, who have come from the territories of these states’ former colonies (e.g. Ireland, the Indian sub-continent, British West Indies, Algeria, and other states in French colonial Africa and the formerly Dutch Indonesia and Surinam) or the still active colonies (e.g. Martinique, Curacao, Greenland).
Many of these migrant communities have developed a wider visible cultural profile, particularly in food retailing, restaurants/cafes provision and in the cultural arena of the arts and clubs. Socialists should be to the forefront of building upon this – culturally, socially and politically. This means trying to rebuild the sort of unity found in the anti-racist campaigns in the 1970s UK, but on a new basis. Black struggles then united a very wide array of Asians, West Indians and Africans. Socialists in the ‘host’ communities provided solidarity. This was before the top-down UK state-promoted ‘multicultural’ counter-offensive, started in the 1980s, to neutralise a growing ‘multi-culturalism from below’. This new state strategy headed off those political challenges to the existing UK order. These were diverted by the promotion of competition between different ethnic groups seeking state recognition for certain community leaders, mainly through state funding.
Today, there is a much stronger material basis upon which to promote a united Europe. There is widespread transnational economic integration of major non-UK based corporations operating in the UK, e.g. Volkswagen, Adams Opel, Santander, and INEOS, and by UK-based corporations operating in the rest of the EU, e.g. Astra Zeneca, Vodafone, Marks and Spencer, Tesco, Prudential Financial and HSBC. We are getting more and more used to seeing the consumer end of the transnational capitalist chain, with non-UK firms, like Lidl, Aldi, IKEA, Nokia, and H&M, being very visible in shopping centres and streets.
The capitalist EU has provided the economic (and to a certain degree, the social) underpinning for the current European Democratic Revolution. This has occurred in an analogous manner to which the capitalists’ Industrial Revolution provided the underpinning of the 1848 Democratic Revolutions. The EU contributed greatly to the economic modernisation of new member states (e.g. Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece), and to the continuation of earlier regional development schemes, particularly in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Welsh-speaking Wales, which had been largely abandoned under Thatcher.
The recent experience of the Scottish component of this European Democratic Revolution is instructive. The Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) raised the slogans, ”Another Scotland is Possible’, ‘Another Europe Is Possible’, and ‘Another World is Possible’ in 2012. Now that the focus is on the EU/Europe (two different things), we need to put forward a clearer idea about what ‘Another Europe’ should be like – i.e. a federated, secular and social European Republic.
The Republican Socialist Alliance (RSA) list, with contributors in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland, developed out of the practical support given to RIC and the wider ‘Yes’ campaign during the Scottish independence referendum campaign. This campaign heralded the beginnings of a democratic revolution. During the recent EU referendum campaign, despite tactical divisions over the best way to vote, the RSA was able to publish the following statement, outlining not only the reality of the European Democratic Revolution, but also the bare outlines of a political programme to advance it (15).
The RSA recognises that “both the EU and UK are undemocratic states” and calls for a European democratic revolution “consistent with the idea of democratic revolution within the UK”. The fires of democratic revolution have been lit in Ireland and Scotland, Euskadi and Catalunya. The fight for democracy must spread to England, Wales and a wider European movement from Greece to Spain.
The people of Europe need a mass democratic movement to counter the growing threat of the Far Right. Such a movement must have its own democratic demands directed against the EU Commission and the existing EU ‘constitution’ (Lisbon Treaty). Instead of waiting for somebody to fix a broken system, the people of Europe must take action themselves. Without millions taking action another kind of Europe is impossible.
A people’s Europe must be a Republic. All hereditary institutions, including the monarchies in the UK, Spain, Holland, Denmark and Belgium, must be swept aside. All officials and representatives must be elected, accountable and subject to recall and paid no more than the average income.
A federal structure recognises that nations exist and people have a right to elect their own national assemblies, with law making powers. An essential part of a federation is the constitutional right of all nations to self determination (i.e. the right to leave).
Secular and Social Republic
A peoples’ Europe must be a secular republic. This guarantees freedom of worship for all religions and none: Atheists, Buddhists, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Protestants, and Hindus etc. There is no state religion, no special privileges for any religion and secular education for all. This is especially important because Europe’s history of anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia.
A people’s Europe must be a social republic, putting the welfare of the people before profit. The constitution must ensure that all corporations are fully open to democratic scrutiny and management is democratically accountable to employees, consumers and wider society. If the workforce and communities demand, corporations must be transformed into co-operative ownership and control that puts the welfare of the people before profit.
This immediate programme has not been put forward in the prescriptive manner of the sects. It is a contribution, based on the work done by the RSA and the RCN, along with the RIC, in relation to the recent Scottish, Catalan and Greek contributions to a developing European Democratic Revolution. It offers a challenge to the implicit politics of the mainstream unionists in the UK – ‘Another UK is Possible’, ‘Another EU is perhaps Possible’, ‘Another World is Impossible’. It also offers a challenge to the reactionary FUKers – ‘Back to the Britain of 1972/1956/1939/1914’ (take your pick), and national Exiters elsewhere (they have their own national dates to look back to) – ‘Fuck Europe’, and ‘Back to a White Christian dominated World’.
For example, one thing that needs added to the RSA’s suggested programme is a section dealing with Europe’s relationship to the ‘Third World’. For, as Franz Fanon, the Martinique Afro-Caribbean revolutionary wrote in his Wretched of the Earth in 1961, “Europe is literally the creation of the Third World. Latin America, China, and Africa. From all these continents, under whose eyes Europe today raises up her tower of opulence, there has flowed out for centuries towards that same Europe, diamonds and oil, silk and cotton, wood and exotic products.” And since Fanon wrote these words, to those sources of wealth can be added the large numbers of super-exploited who live in the new ‘ghettoes’ and slums within the EU’s cities and large towns.
The EEC and EUs’ neo-colonial relationships with French, Belgian, Dutch, British and Portuguese ex-colonies, forming the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, is covered by the Yaounde Agreements (1969-75) the Lome Convention, 1975 and the Cotonou Agreement (2000) (16). Not only must these be opposed, but more effective ways need to be found of offering direct solidarity not to the states, but on the principle of ‘internationalism from below’. The EU also operates in Palestine, helping to fund the Israeli collaborationist and corrupt Palestine Authority. It offers verbal support to a two state ‘solution’, but always stops short of binding action against Israeli state depredations.
A good thing about RIC’s campaign during the Scottish independence referendum was that we brought speakers from Ireland, Wales and England, and also sent speakers or declarations to all three countries. It was our Scottish internationalism, which ensured this. However we faced opposition. The biggest source came form the ‘Brit Left’s auto-labourist response to the Tories, and their Left unionism.
RIC also had speakers from and sent speakers to Catalunya, and Euskadi. We brought speakers over from Greece and also gave EU migrants in Scotland a platform. When the Syriza government was facing enormous EU pressure, RIC did more than any other political organisation in the UK to try and provide solidarity in coordination with the STUC (17). There was a realisation within RIC that the pressure could prove too much and the Syriza government might buckle, which is why the agreed campaigning slogan became, not, ‘We Love Syriza’ (as some young comrades initially wanted – but back in ’68 many of us identified, often uncritically, with a variety of Trotskyist, Maoist, or anarchist politics put forward by the students and young workers of France), but ‘Scotland Stands with Greece’.
If anything provides an argument against the idea that popular upsurges automatically provide inspiration and will be emulated everywhere, it was the failure of really effective international organisation and action in the EU over Greece that showed this up. Just how many of the revolutionary sects said they were waiting for the Syriza government to really defy the EU before they provided solidarity? Perhaps, the lack of evidence of wider, more visible, support at the crucial earlier stages convinced many Greek workers and students that a Syriza-led government was still the best defensive option after their climb down.
But, RIC also took its ‘Another World Is Possible’ slogan seriously. In Edinburgh, RIC brought in Scottish Palestine Solidarity campaign speakers and joined their protests against Israel’s brutal suppression of Palestinian resistance.
xv) Scotland and Ireland point the way to a new Europe – and a Moderate Proposal
A comparison of the situation in Scotland and Ireland today, with the time these countries joined the EEC in 1973, is very revealing. Who would have thought then that the leaders of every Scottish political party (with the exception of UKIP) would go to a state school. Compare this with the situation of the Conservatives today, the Lib-Dems up to 2015, and the Labour Party, until Jeremy Corbyn was elected. But even more incredulous would have been the notion that the leaders of both the Scottish Labour and Conservative and Unionist parties, Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson are lesbians, the leader of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie, and even of the Right populist UKIP, David Coburn are gay (although, in Coburn’s case apologetically, in case he upsets homophobes).
This makes the election of Nicola Sturgeon, a conventionally married woman, as SNP leader, look almost boringly staid. Even more staid, the supposedly socially liberal, Lib-Dems in Scotland are led by a conventionally married man, Willie Rennie. Tommy Sheridan could not be called staid, although he does publicly like to project the image of being in a conventional 1950s style family. Until very recently he has been the alpha male leader of Solidarity. The SSP has male and female co-spokespersons Colin Fox and Katie Bonnar. The SSP’s downplaying of single leaders is welcome. However, surely if socialists are to once more to get to the head of the field, in our new socially diverse Scotland, their next two leading figures should be trans and non-binary! And who, in 1973 Ireland, could ever have thought that their country would take the lead, and be the first in the EU to win majority support for gay marriage in a state-wide referendum?
You can best explain these developments by looking at effects the EU’s socio-economic ‘revolution from above’ in a bit more detail. Scotland in 1973 was a British provincial and relatively marginal part of the UK state. The Church of Scotland, other Presbyterian churches and the Catholic Church had a major influence over social and cultural policies. Ireland in 1973 was divided between the ’26 Counties’ Irish state and the ‘6 Counties’ Northern Irish statelet. In the South, the Catholic Church enjoyed both constitutional priviledge and massive influence over social, cultural and political policies. Ireland was still tied economically to the UK with its currency, the punt, linked to sterling. In the North, the ‘Ulster’-British had their Protestant supremacy (upheld by the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterians). They prevailed over policy in virtually every field. The Orange Order was directly represented by the Ulster Unionists in Stormont. In Northern Ireland, unionists thought with some justification that they were the most British people in the UK.
For both Scotland and Ireland, joining and being part of the EEC and then EU has created a political space that has countered the depoliticising and provincialising role of the UK state. Thousands of new EU migrants have had a major economic, social and cultural impact. Millions have travelled, tens of thousands have worked, and thousands have undertaken further or higher education in the EU. Scotland and Ireland have been large beneficiaries of EU regional policy. Oblivious to the weather, we even drink alcohol and coffee out on the streets now! Therefore, it is not so surprising that in Scotland and Northern Ireland there were large Remain votes, particularly in the most politically aware communities. Nor, is at accident that there was a majority Remain vote in the Welsh and Gaelic speaking areas. The Council of Europe (upheld by the EU, but also threatened by Brexiters) has promoted the legal protection of minority languages through the 1992 European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages. This is something not guaranteed under the UK’s unwritten constitution, which has led to a more precarious relationship between those speaking Welsh and Gaelic and the state they live in.
Certainly, until recently, very few people living in the EU thought of themselves as European in any deeper sense than say the people of medieval Europe did, when they shared a common Roman Catholic identity. Of course, this shared identity did not stretch to those living in Russia, the Balkans, the Aegean and Black Sea communities where Eastern Orthodox identities prevailed; just as those living today, inside the same areas, still beyond the EU, are often thought of as somewhat less than European. And the opprobrium attached to heretics and Jews in medieval Catholic Europe can be matched by that directed against those from an Islamic background, gypsies and others in today’s EU.
It would be true to say that with the global triumph of the British Union and British imperialism after the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, through to its heyday in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, and continuing until very recently, that British identities, whether hybrid – Scottish-British, Irish-British, later ‘Ulster’-British, Welsh-British and maybe even English-British – or just British, have been felt far more deeply held than any tentative European identity.
However, consider the following response, the day after the UK majority ‘Leave’ and Scotland majority ‘Remain’ vote, from Alan Massie, the High Tory, Scottish novelist. “I’m Scottish, British and European. I would like to remain in all three. But a Brexit Britain, the Britain of Johnson and Farage, has no attraction for me. It would be a meaner nastier place and I want no part of it. I have never cared for the SNP – the Scottish National Party – but then I care even less for pretty well anything about the Brexiters. So if it comes to the point – and I hope it won’t – I will be strongly tempted to vote for being Scottish and European.”
As socialists, we would have a very different notion of what being Scottish and European means to that of Massie. But the mere fact that, as a virulent recent British unionist, even he can consider abandoning that British part of his identity, and exchange it for a more direct European one, could well be a straw in the wind. And although Massie will strongly oppose any European Democratic Revolution, this is what it will probably take for others to develop a stronger hybrid European identity.
Socialists do not see this as our final destination, but merely a point on the road to our ultimate aim – a global commune. Worldwide internationalism was first flagged up as long ago as 1794, when the Scottish revolutionary, Thomas Muir, declared himself to be a “citizen of the world”. He did this in the most inauspicious of circumstances. He was being transported to Australia for his role in promoting an internationalism-from-below alliance of the Scottish Friends of the People and the United Irishmen at the First Convention of the Scottish Friends of the People in Edinburgh in December 1792. Muir received the United Irishmen’s Address to the Scottish Friends of the People at his lodgings in Edinburgh’s Carrubers Close and then read it out at the Convention held in James Court, off the Lawnmarket (18). These are both places where James Connolly’s family lived. Connolly took Muir’s global perspective forward, whilst working as an IWW organiser in the USA. In 1907 he wrote, “For our demands most moderate are. We only want the Earth.” It would be both understandable and justifiable for us to advance that ‘moderate’ proposal today.
Allan Armstrong, 7.7.16
(10) http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/07/26/past-and-present- imperialisms-pitin-the-war-in-ukraine-and-the-far-right/ http://republicancommunist.org/blog/2015/05/04/kagarlitsky-the-war-and-political-corruption/
(14) Steve Freeman, Referendum The Future of Europe, part 4, http://www.republicansocialists.org.uk/blog/?p=185
(18) Muir and the United Irishmen in Thomas Muir, Michael Donnelly at:- http://www.auchinairn.co.uk