Wednesday, February 01, 2017
Brexit is inevitably anti-working class
Members of Parliament have voted to support Theresa May’s Brexit Bill on its second reading.
This was (and is) an anti-working class measure which threatens, in particular, the rights of those workers who are citizens of other EU nations – but it also threatens all of us who depend upon legal rights rooted in European law.
Which is all of us.
The Labour Party is repeating the mistake which Gordon Brown made with “that bigoted woman” in 2010 but whereas he made the mistake with an individual, we are now making the mistake with millions of voters. He patronised an individual by ignoring her views to her face and then pandering to them when his true feelings became clear. We are doing the same thing by “respecting” leave voters in the referendum.
When Gordon Brown failed to confront a “labour voter” who expressed views with which he disagreed he set a precedent for those Labour parliamentarians who have failed over many years to take issue with anti-migrant feelings (which they have failed to understand because their interaction with low paid workers is more often as employers than as competitors).
It is ironic that so many of these Progress-types are now amongst those “courageously” defying the (ill-judged) whip since it is their fault that our Party has lost touch with those who feel ignored by our Party. Those Labour voters who feel abandoned by our Party were abandoned when the co-thinkers of Hilary Benn and Chukka Umunna were running our Party (and in Government).
Nevertheless, the entire Party is now making the mistake of failing to engage with and confront the mistaken anti-migrant prejudices of many millions of voters. Today this led to Labour Members of Parliament failing to oppose, on the second reading, a Bill which attacks the interests of working class people.
It is really important to be clear. Whilst not all “leave” voters were racist (though many were) the remainder were (objectively) stupid. In particular, working class “leave” voters voted against their own class interests and contributed to the “divide and rule” strategy of the ruling class. (It is worth noting that the increasingly defensive argumentation from those who advocated “Lexit” is an obvious consequence of their recognising that they took the wrong side in a historically important choice).
If Labour wants to be listened to by these “leave” voters we cannot achieve our goal by pandering to misplaced prejudice – we need to do what Gordon Brown should have done in 2010 and take issue with wrongheaded opinions. To those people who believe that immigration has hurt them, we need to say that they are wrong – and in so doing we need to advance persuasive arguments rooted in facts and the real interests of working class people.
We cannot expect that the right-wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party will do this for us (because they cannot hope to have an audience with ordinary people). However, we do need to demand of the current Party leadership that they show the same courage in confronting popular prejudice that they have shown over so many years in fighting the elite within the Westminster bubble.
There is no – and can be no – “Peoples Brexit”. There is only a racist Brexit which attacks the rights of working people.
The reason why this reality creates such a crisis for the Labour Party in particular is that we are now faced with a polity in which the defining distinction is not a class question but, as with the nineteenth century debate over the Corn Laws, a question between liberal and conservative wings of the bourgeoisie.
This is a consequence of our retreats and defeats over the past generation. European social democracy is in (perhaps irreversible) decline because there is no global alternative to capitalism and no persuasive alternative at the national level in any advanced capitalist economy.
Therefore the key questions which are faced in everyday life are not questions between a working class and a ruling class perspective, but questions within an overall ruling class perspective.
We need to rebuild class politics around the rebuilding of a socialist working class politics, but we cannot do this by capitulating to the nationalism which is the expression of the protectionist/isolationist wing of the ruling class.
Socialism has never developed out of conservativism. It has always been a development of a working class perspective going beyond the liberal politics of the bourgeoisie.
Socialists need to win an argument against Brexit within the labour movement – if we fail to do so then we will have lost for decades to come. Nationalism is the antithesis of socialism.