Wednesday, February 08, 2017
Stand for Socialism first of all
Today I attended a meeting of the UNISON National Executive Council (aside from meetings at the June Conference I expect that this will have been my antepenultimate meeting). At that meeting we discussed NEC motions to our Conference in June, and – crucially – we had to consider the implications of the vote to leave the European Union, and also the vital importance of stepping up our campaigning against the racism and xenophobia (which have been encouraged and unleashed by that vote).
This got me thinking about the new and different role in our movement which I have taken on in the last week, as Chair of Brighton Pavilion Constituency Labour Party, at which I was elected as part of a “Stand for Corbyn” slate of leftwingers. It has been suggested to me that, having been elected on that slate I ought not to be critical of Corbyn’s mistaken decision to whip Labour Members of Parliament to vote for Theresa May’s Bill to trigger “Article 50” and begin the process of leaving the European Union.
That would be wrong. It would be wrong on two counts.
First, I made clear in my election address at the Labour Party AGM that I oppose leaving the European Union (because the only route out of the EU is a reactionary and racist route). Just because a narrow majority in an ill-conceived referendum across the UK have voted to leave the EU that does not mean that democrats are under an obligation to support any particular route out of the EU – and in particular there is no obligation upon the Labour Party to support an outcome which we rightly opposed.
Secondly, the last thing which the Labour Left should provide to a socialist Leader of our Party is uncritical support. Jeremy Corbyn is an admirable man because he has stood up on principle over many years. He is supported and admired because he has been a principled rebel. To use his name to encourage uncritical support for a leadership is an absurdity. The socialism which we need is a questioning, critical socialism – it is not and must never be a socialism which values loyalty above thought.
We are at a tipping point in our history. The prospect of a “hard Brexit” which encompasses an intensification of racist controls on immigration and the freedom of movement of working class people invites us to consider what a British fascism would look like. At the same time, American fascism is arriving, wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. Trump and Brexit are two sides of the same coin.
Socialists need to take sides against nationalism. To say this is not an attack on Corbyn – and certainly not an expression of support for the nonentities in the Parliamentary Labour Party who have opposed him and have brought us to this situation by abandoning many communities over many years.
It is however essential that socialists stand now for what we believe in.
No one who truly cares for the interests of the working class would vote in favour of giving May the power to trigger Article 50.