Saturday, January 05, 2019

Brexit is a Tory disaster - but socialists cannot stand aside


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As 2019 begins we live in a country where national politics appears to be dominated by something (“Brexit”) which is not even a proper word, and has no agreed meaning.

In fact, of course, everyday life is not entirely dominated by the argument within our ruling class about which fantasy version of life-after-Empire is to be preferred.

Our real lives are instead dominated by the various consequences of the domestic and international defeats suffered by our class since (and before) the 1980s.

High levels of employment aren’t producing an increase in working class living standards because our trade unions have not recovered from those defeats, exemplified by the defeat of the Miners in 1985.

We live in the midst of a housing crisis because of the impact upon the supply of social housing of “right to buy”, and upon local government of the series of attacks of which ratecapping and the Poll Tax were examples.

All our public services are staggering because of a generation of privatisation and underfunding.

In the absence of both a meaningful domestic challenge from our class and a global alternative to capitalism, our rulers have not felt the need to invest in social peace as they did in the generation after the Second World War.

Our trade unions remain generally stagnant and inactive (in the thrall of a bureaucracy which prioritises survival over effectiveness) because they (and we) have no strategy to respond to these circumstances in the workplace(s).

The failure of the leadership of the big trade unions to take on the Government over public service pensions after the enormous strike action on 30 November 2011 demonstrates both the failure of that leadership and inadequacy of the left-wing opposition to that leadership.

Our Labour Party has grown – and gained support – since 2015 because, under our current leadership, we can inspire hope that there is an alternative to the post-Thatcherite reality of everyday life.

The most important political priority for socialists must be to secure – and then support – a socialist-led Labour Government which will further encourage our class to unleash our potential for social transformation.

However, the argument between the “big business” and “Little England” wings of the political party of our class enemies is nevertheless taking place in front of us, and is therefore an obstacle on the path to our objective. We cannot ignore it.

There are those in our ranks who want to take sides in the battle between Tory factions.

The smaller, sadder, group are the “Labour leavers” and “Lexiteers”, some of whom have not updated their views since the 80s and others of whom appear mistakenly to believe that anything which disrupts the capitalist economy must benefit the working class.

The larger, and now more vocal group are those who would prioritise keeping the United Kingdom in the European Union over any other objective (including the change of Government our class needs).

They, of course, include many of those who held sway in our Party over the years in which we alienated and failed to defend the interests of many of those who went on to vote to leave the EU.

The politics of Hilary Benn, Stephen Kinnock and Chuka Umunna are not the politics of opposition to Brexit – they are the politics that helped to produce a majority for Brexit in the 2016 referendum.

Both those two groups (the “Lexiteers” and the Europhiles) are wrong. As socialists it is our role to represent the interests of our class, the working class – not to choose sides in an argument amongst our class enemies.

That said, we cannot ignore the actual political context in which we seek to represent the interests of our class. “Brexit” is, overwhelmingly, the project of the hard and far right politically. As an expression of nationalism, it is plainly racist.

There may be a hypothetical world in which a socialist Government of the UK, with mass popular support, sought to implement policies in the interests of our class and was obstructed by the EU.

We are not living in that world now. The political conclusions which we might draw in that counterfactual reality tell us nothing about what we should do now.

In 2019, if the UK were to leave the EU (on any terms) this would disrupt our capitalist economy with no benefit to the working class. It would empower and embolden the political forces of nationalism (and therefore, with a nationalism built on the ruins of Imperial power, of racism).

“Brexit Britain” would not be a nation in which the views of Kelvin Hopkins, Dennis Skinner or the Morning Star held any sway, still less those of the parties of the far left – it would be a nation in which, under the authority of the Boris Johnsons and Jacob Rees-Moggs, the vermin of UKIP and the EDL would thrive.

Most importantly, the departure of the UK from the EU in the circumstances of 2019 would magnify and legitimise popular racism (to a greater extent than the referendum result of 2016, which itself provoked a spike in racist attacks).

Not only would this pose a direct and immediate threat to all Black and ethnic minority workers in the UK, it would also create an environment far less conducive to the victory of socialist politics, as the divisions in our class along racial lines would be emphasised and augmented.

The most important political task of socialists in the United Kingdom at the beginning of 2019 is to do all that we can to secure a socialist-led Labour Government. Unless and until we achieve this, neither we (nor the Labour leadership) can determine what takes place in relation to “Brexit”.

That said, no socialist can support the departure of the UK from the EU in the real circumstances of 2019, and to the extent that we are able to influence events in a way consistent with our wider political objectives, socialists should support any step which makes “Brexit” less likely.

The call for an immediate Special Conference is inappropriate and premature (since the Labour Party has clear Conference policy relevant to current circumstances).

However, socialists should make clear that there are no conceivable circumstances in which Labour MPs should vote, in early 2019, for the departure of the UK from the EU – and should there be a further referendum, there would need to be a Special Conference to agree any position other than the “remain” view taken in 2016.

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