The Only Solution to Capitalist
Europe-Wide Socialist Revolution!
The “Brexit” Trap:
Left Caught Between “Leave”
and “Remain” in European Union
Supporters of British exit from the EU celebrate after referendum victory, June 24. Much of the British left joined chauvinist campaign calling for imperialist Britain to “Leave,” while Labour and others called to “Remain” in the imperialist European Union. The campaign was dominated by anti-immigrant appeals on both sides.
No to Both Sides in the Chauvinist Circus:
Full Citizenship Rights for All Immigrants!
On June 23, British voters were called upon to cast their ballot on the issue of whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union (“Brexit”) or remain in it. It was a referendum centered on the question of immigration – this was the reason it was called and the issue that dominated debate throughout the campaign. After the dust settled, it emerged that 51.9% had voted to leave and 48.1% to remain – a clear if not overwhelming decision in favor of Brexit. The result sent shock waves through the political establishment and the markets.
The vote set off fireworks in both of Britain’s major parties. It was a repudiation of Conservative Party prime minister David Cameron, who called the referendum as a maneuver to stifle inner-party discontent among Tory backbenchers in Parliament. He figured that after negotiating some concessions from the EU bureaucrats in Brussels he could get a majority for “Remain.” On the other hand, Tory Brexiteers and the far-right UK Independence Party who led the “Leave” camp were ecstatic: UKIP chief Nigel Farage declared June 24 “independence day.” Meanwhile, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn faced a revolt by MPs (members of Parliament) who accused him of not campaigning hard enough to stay in the EU.
International finance capital was alarmed. The vote immediately led to the fall of the British pound to the lowest level since 1985 and stock market turmoil. The big money men in the City of London financial district were so sure of a victory for “Remain” that many hadn’t hedged their investments against the possibility of a Brexit. There was fear of a new crisis for the euro as Italian banks appeared shaky. But the longer-term repercussions remain unclear, and not only because actual secession from the EU, if it started right now, would take at least two years. Negotiating the various international treaties, including trade pacts, which would replace EU membership would take even longer.
Moreover, leading Conservative campaigners for Brexit like former London mayor Boris Johnson long ago suggested that they would use a referendum victory to negotiate further concessions. What then? If Britain ends up, like Norway, not formally part of the European Union but subject to its legislation (including an obligation to take in European immigrants) as well as co-financing the EU budget, “Leave” supporters will have been duped. But, if, as was leaked to the press at the end of July, an “emergency brake” on migration to the UK for up to seven years is agreed to in order to keep Britain in the fold, it would make a mockery of claims that voting to “Remain” would defend immigrants’ rights.
Now the political repercussions of the unexpected “Leave” victory are playing out in Britain. Cameron, who had planned on a leisurely withdrawal from office this October, resigned precipitously. Among the Tory Brexiteers, “justice” minister Michael Gove sank Johnson’s bid to become prime minister. One candidate after another was eliminated in true “House of Cards” style until Britain suddenly (without any popular election) had a new PM: Theresa May. The former Home Secretary (interior minister) is a virulent immigrant-basher and would-be Maggie Thatcher II. Donald Trump fan Johnson got the Foreign Office, in charge of negotiating Brexit (which a German Social Democrat likened to naming Dracula health minister). As the Remain camp pushes for a revote, May and Johnson are delaying by dragging out Brexit negotiations.
Over in Labour, the right wing seized upon the referendum result to try to topple Corbyn as party Leader. Labour Members of Parliament passed a vote of no confidence by 172 to 40. But the influx of new young members, many of them Corbyn supporters, raising party membership from 200,000 after its defeat in the May 2015 elections to over 500,000 today, could sink the MPs’ revolt. So they are demanding that new members be disenfranchised. If that doesn’t work, the coup plotters may then split to join with the hapless Liberal Democrats to form the “center-left” bourgeois party they have long sought. In response the entire opportunist left is going all-out to save Corbyn, with fervent supporters of Leave now equally fervently backing the man who rounded up Labour votes to Remain in the EU.
Meanwhile, in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which voted heavily for “Remain,” bourgeois nationalist politicians are scrambling to gain favor with the European Union. Scottish National Party leader and First Minister of the Scottish Parliament Nicola Sturgeon declared that a new referendum on independence was on the agenda, and headed to Brussels to unleash a charm offensive, hoping to cut a deal for Scotland to enter the European Union if it leaves the UK. Even if it could overcome opposition from other EU governments (e.g., Spain, worried about Catalan secession), that would mean subjecting Scotland to the same brutal austerity policies that have devastated Greece. In Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams called for an “All-Ireland forum” to “redesign the constitutional and political future of the island” to stay in the EU.
Revolutionary Marxists are irreconcilable opponents of the European Union – a “Fortress Europe” which condemns refugees at its borders to death every day – and would never advocate voting for this imperialist alliance. Yet when a referendum about EU membership is posed by competing bourgeois forces, the political content of the referendum is a key factor. In this case, where the battle focused on differing formulas for restricting immigration, campaigns by ostensible Marxists for a “Leave” vote meant giving this chauvinist circus a “left” cover. The only possible course for proletarian revolutionaries was to abstain on the vote (including blank or spoiled ballots) and counterpose to it a class-struggle campaign for asylum for refugees and full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
Moreover, just as the dispute over “Brexit” was going hot and heavy between wings of the British bourgeoisie, just across the Channel France was exploding with massive class battles. From April through June, hundreds of thousands of workers and youth marched, refinery workers cut off fuel supplies, rail workers stopped the trains to protest the anti-labor law of the Socialist government of François Hollande. Yet British leftists were too busy arguing to vote to leave the EU (in a campaign dominated by English chauvinism and anti-immigrant racism) to call to unite with the French workers. The program of the League for the Fourth International to bring down the European Union is not to promote one of its imperialist components against others but to destroy the imperialist bloc with internationalist class struggle: For a socialist United States of Europe!
Right-wing British press has been whipping up hysteria against immigrants for years. This came to a head over the referendum on staying in the European Union or exiting. In the campaign, both Remain and Leave focused on how to llimit immigrants. Marxist internationalists oppose both sides, fight instead for full citizenship for immigrants.
Britain was never more than half-way in the European Union. For decades, the Conservative Party has bandied about anti-“Europe” rhetoric, going back to Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 “I want my money back” jibe. After winning the 2015 general election, Tory prime minister Cameron once again renegotiated the terms of Britain’s membership of the EU, announcing victory after getting a reduction in social services payments to East European workers. He then called the referendum. But unlike the Labour government which successfully pulled the same “concessions+referendum” maneuver in 1975, Cameron not only faced “Eurosceptics” (i.e., hard-line EU opponents) in his own party, led by Johnson and Gove, but the far-right, anti-immigrant UKIP has been racking up electoral scores of over 10% in recent years.
The Brexit victory was not in response to the vicious anti-worker austerity meted out by the European central bankers. Britain has retained its own currency as well as other “opt-outs”. It didn’t face the brutal treatment that Greece has received from the EU. The new-found sympathy for the downtrodden from the likes of Johnson/Gove and their railing about foreign “elites” is sheer hypocrisy. No one forced the British government to increase school fees by 300 percent, or to abolish the Education Maintenance Allowance that aided many working-class children to go on to higher education. It was London, not Brussels, that dictated a “bedroom tax” to force poor people out of homes deemed “too large” for them, that opened up the National Health Service to private companies, that cut benefits and imposed slave-labor “zero hours” contracts and all the rest of it.
No, this home-grown austerity was not what was fueling fury against the EU. As the rival campaigns got into gear, the partisans of “Brexit” began complaining that they were the victims of “Project Fear” – i.e., a propaganda campaign warning of economic catastrophe in the event of leaving the EU. (It was such a “Project Fear” that turned the tide against Scottish independence in the referendum two years ago.1) Yet the Leave campaign deployed a far more effective “Project Fear” using all the techniques of the Big Lie, the crudest racist anti-immigrant fear-mongering about a supposed invasion of murderers and rapists. Thus armed forces minister Penny Mordaunt declared (ITV, 22 May):
“A Remain vote in this referendum is a vote to allow people from Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey to move here freely when they join the EU soon…. Many of these countries have high crime rates, problems with gangs and terror cells as well as challenging levels of poverty.”
Demagogic immigrant-bashing campaign billboard unveiled by Nigel Farage (shown in photo), leader of far-right UK Independence Party, in closing days of campaign for Brexit. Using photo of Middle Eastern refugees entering Slovenia, UKIP stroked frenzy calling to "take control of our borders."
This was typical of the “post-factual” nature of the campaigning. There was and is not the remotest chance of Turkey rapidly joining the EU. UKIP leader Farage’s masterpiece was a billboard with a huge photo of Middle Eastern refugees lined up ... at the Slovenian border. Boris Johnson actually attributed U.S. president Obama’s support to Remain being due to his Kenyan father, as this supposedly meant that he hated the British Empire. The campaign was finally punctuated by the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire on June 16. Her killer reportedly shouted “Britain first” and was in contact with fascist circles both in the UK and the U.S. for years. But he was promptly classified “mentally unstable” and forgotten about.
Far from combating the chauvinist tide, the Remain campaign countered the fear-mongering about immigrants by claiming that staying in the European Union was the more effective course to combat “uncontrolled immigration.” At the beginning of the year, Cameron had attacked Labour: “They met with a bunch of migrants in Calais, they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hard-working tax-payers” (Independent, 27 January). Yet it was not just the Tories who spewed out anti-immigrant rhetoric. Labour “Remain” campaigner Ed Balls argued, “We need to press Europe to restore proper borders, and put new controls on economic migration” (Daily Mirror, 14 June).
For years, the Labour Party not only engaged in anti-immigrant rhetoric but, when it governed Britain from 1997 to 2010, carried out anti-immigrant repression. Under Tony Blair’s “New Labour” regime, his home secretary Jack Straw vilified Roma (“gypsy”) immigrants as burglars, thieves and troublemakers, and set up a network of immigration detention centers where human rights abuses were rampant. Straw’s successor, David Blunkett told Asians in Britain to speak English at home and proposed a “Britishness” test for immigrants. With this kind of instigation from top government officials, there was a surge in racist attacks, with the number of racial incidents quadrupling from 1996/97 to 2003/04 (reported in Richard Seymour, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics ).
By 2013, some 30,000 people were held in the immigration jails set up by the Blairites, half of them asylum seekers. Sexual abuse of female detainees at the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Center was widely reported in the press and a focus of a parliamentary Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom. New Labour waged and won elections by appealing to middle-class Tory voters with Thatcherite “free market” policies. But after being cast into opposition in 2010, Labour Party Leader Ed Miliband sought to get back in office with chauvinist appeals to working-class voters summed up under the label “Blue Labour.” This meant harping on anti-immigrant and nationalist appeals in order to compete with the likes of the English Defence League and UKIP on their own right-wing terrain.
Not only New Labour and Blue Labour right-wingers in the Labour leadership spouted an anti-immigrant line as they opposed Brexit. So, too, did reputed left-winger Jeremy Corbyn, although less crudely. In an upset vote after Labour’s dismal showing in the 2015 general elections, Corbyn was elected as party Leader representing a more traditional variant of reformism. 2 Although a critic of the EU himself, Corbyn campaigned for Remain, attacking the Tory cabinet as incapable of actually restricting immigration. In an opinion piece in the Guardian (20 February), Corbyn complained that “Cameron’s much-heralded ‘emergency brake’ on in-work migrants’ benefits will do nothing to cut inward migration to Britain.” Corbyn complained to the BBC that “we are reliant on importing nurses and doctors from abroad.”
In mid-June, Corbyn rose in Parliament to demand reinstating the Migrant Impact Fund, which had been introduced by Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2008 and then abolished by Cameron. Corbyn neglected to mention that this money, supposedly to compensate towns and regions for the “burden” of an influx of immigrants, comes from fees levied on non-EU students and immigrants! As Labour spokesman John Denham bragged, “Every penny was funded by a levy on migrants themselves, not the taxpayer” (Guardian, 6 August 2010). Meanwhile, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson and Corbyn ally John McDonnell called to restrict free movement of labor within the EU. The fact is that every side in the referendum battle – both “Leave” and “Remain,” from UKIP racists to Labour reformists – engaged in immigrant-bashing.
As the referendum approached, there was a crescendo of anti-immigrant propaganda, part of a deliberate marketing strategy by the right-wing Brexiteers. Johnson and Grove called for an Australian-style “points-based” system giving capitalists carte blanche to import skilled labor as needed. Actually, the Australian system is based on a “blow them out of the water” military strategy to prevent refugees and “illegal” immigrants from reaching Australian shores. While playing the anti-immigrant card to the hilt, contrary to the delusions of many of their voters, the right-wing Brexit campaigners’ intention was not to stop immigration but to give capitalists greater control over which immigrants get in, while terrorizing those who make it, and setting one section of the working class against another.
Then after the vote there was an explosion of hate crimes. Leaflets distributed in letter boxes in Huntingdon read “Leave the EU – No more Polish vermin.” The Polish cultural centre in Hammersmith, west London was vandalized. There were numerous reports of people deemed to be immigrants (some of whom have been in Britain for five generations) stopped in the street and told, “We voted Leave, so it’s time for you to leave.” And there were actual physical assaults. The number of such cases reported doubled in the week after the vote. Notably, some of the abuse was directed against Muslims: either the EU was believed to be responsible for them as well, or the racists thought the vote had given them a green light to attack any and all “foreigners.” The fact is that the Brexit referendum was infused with xenophobia – on both sides.
The Pro-Imperialist Labour Euroleft
There is a “soft left” in Labour which despaired long ago of stopping Thatcher or her successors through mobilizing the strength of the working class. Like many other reformists throughout Europe, they pretend that the representatives of the European bourgeoisies, when in Brussels, can be persuaded to do the exact opposite of what they are doing in their home countries. Former London mayor Ken Livingstone thus declared, “On its own the sovereign nation state is no longer up to the job of dealing with the many pressing issues, such as the power of multinational corporations … The socialist project goes through Europe or it probably goes nowhere” (Guardian [London], 21 November 1991). This blew up in their faces after 2008 as the EU openly became the enforcer for capitalist austerity as dictated by German imperialism.
An extreme form of this pro-EU sentiment is represented by the “Red Flag” group in the Labour Party, which paints the Brexit vote as a “severe setback.” It talks of the “progressive impulse in the EU” in the “processes of economic integration” that supposedly “raises humanity’s productivity.” (Try selling that to Greek workers!) In its previous incarnation as Workers Power, this group had some “Trotskyist” pretensions; it now clearly wants to be a pseudo-Marxist “brains trust” for the Corbyn wing of Labour. While it correctly points to the anti-immigrant tide, its main complaint is that Brexit represents a step backward from the imaginary supranational European state which they imagine exists and think is progressive.
In fact, Lenin’s analysis in this matter a century ago has stood the test of time:
“From the standpoint of the economic conditions of imperialism – i.e., the export of capital and the division of the world by the ‘advanced’ and ‘civilized’ colonial powers – a United States of Europe, under capitalism, is either impossible or reactionary....
“Of course, temporary agreements are possible between capitalists and between states. In this sense a United States of Europe is possible as an agreement between the European capitalists ... but to what end? Only for the purpose of jointly suppressing socialism in Europe, of jointly protecting colonial booty against Japan and America ....”
–V. I. Lenin, “On the Slogan for a United States of Europe” (August 1915)
Leon Trotsky likewise emphasized during World War I, in articles he quoted in The Third International After Lenin (1928), his magnus opus against Stalin’s anti-Marxist dogma of building “socialism in one country”:
“The imperialist half-unification of Europe might be achieved … as a result of a decisive victory of one group of the great powers as well as a consequence of an inconclusive outcome of the war. In either instance, the unification of Europe would signify the complete trampling underfoot of the principle of self-determination with respect to all weak nations and the preservation and centralization of all the forces and weapons of European reaction: monarchies, standing armies and secret diplomacy.”
Trotsky’s conclusion: “Consequently the United States of Europe represents the form – the only conceivable form – of the dictatorship of the European proletariat.” Or as he later put it as a slogan: For a Soviet United States of Europe!
The European Union is not an embryonic super-state; it is a bloc of bourgeois nation-states balancing their often-conflicting interests. Its origin is in the European Economic Community (EEC), or Common Market, which was originally set up in the mid-1950s as part of the U.S.-directed reorganization of West Europe against the Soviet bloc. Far from being a “progressive impulse,” it was essentially an economic compromise between the French and German bourgeoisies in the framework of the Cold War imperialist political/military alliance against the bureaucratically degenerated Soviet workers state. France obtained a massive subsidy for its agriculture – the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – to prop up the peasant electorate of the bourgeois parties. Germany rearmed and rebuilt its economic juggernaut with a wider market.
Thus the European “Community” was designed to cement an anti-Soviet alliance under the aegis of U.S. imperialism, which British membership reinforced. (French president Charles de Gaulle called the UK an American Trojan Horse, and twice vetoed British membership in the EEC.) After the counterrevolution in the USSR and Eastern Europe, including the capitalist reunification of Germany, the 1992 Maastricht Treaty created the European Union. The EU became increasingly a cover for German domination of Europe, nailed down with the adoption in 1999 of a common currency, the euro (€), which as we wrote then was really the “Deutschmark in drag.” Britain often served as a brake to German ambitions, occasionally creating tensions with Washington, tempered by the overwhelming U.S. military might.
Another pro-EU left group is the social-democratic Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL) of Sean Matgamna, which politically supports the pro-Corbyn Momentum movement in Labour. It is also active in the Another Europe Is Possible popular-front coalition, which includes Alan Thornett’s Socialist Resistance, Left Unity and various petty-bourgeois and bourgeois “progressives,” and has the approval of former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis. Yet the fact is that “another Europe” without vicious anti-worker and anti-immigrant policies is not possible under capitalism. It’s not a matter of changing “neoliberal” policies, nor are we in a cyclical “recession.” In its already eight-year-old depression, decaying capitalism must massively impoverish the workers to shore up the falling profit rate.
The most dramatic proof of the impossibility of resuscitating “welfare state” reforms under capitalism, or just fending off wage cuts, layoffs and slashing of social programs ordered by the imperialist financiers with protests, marches, “general strikes” and elections is the experience of the bourgeois populist SYRIZA government in Greece last year, in which Varoufakis was a leading figure. After a bogus referendum voted “no” on the Eurobankers’ demands in July 2015, the next day SYRIZA prime minister Alexis Tsipras (who called the referendum and campaigned for “no”) turned around and implemented their austerity program anyway, as he had to.3
In the wake of the Brexit vote, Corbyn and his left cheerleaders are being rewarded for doing yeoman’s work in campaigning for Remain (thus defending the EU imperialist alliance) as right-wing Labourites seek to throw the lot out of the party. In recent days there has been an explosion of “reds under the beds” exposés. Labour deputy leader Watson told the Guardian (9 August) in an interview that the party is “at risk of being taken over by hard-left ‘Trotsky entryists,’ who are ‘twisting the arms’ of young members.” The red-baiting attacks on “Trot infiltrators” single out the AWL, the Socialist Party of England and Wales (SPEW) and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), demanding that they be expelled, just as the Militant group was purged from Labour by Neil Kinnock in the 1980s when he was stabbing the militant coal miners’ strike in the back.
Lexit: “Little England” Chauvinism and Labourite Reformism
Attempts have been made by ostensible Marxists to claim that the Brexit vote “objectively” had an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist character. At a “Left Leave” meeting in London on May 18, SWP guru Alex Callinicos declared, “A vote to Leave is a vote against the EU, IMF and NATO axis, but it’s also a vote against our own ruling class.” Not when it posits that the main enemy is Eurocapitalism rather than in Westminster. As for NATO, one result of Brexit could be a stepped-up British role in the U.S.-dominated military alliance. This was underlined when Parliament voted on July 18 to replace the fleet of Trident submarines as a nuclear weapons platform at a cost of £42 billion (at least). And with the prospect of Britain leaving, there is a new push for an autonomous European military not under the Pentagon’s thumb. Given the UK’s privileged, fringe position in the EU, the British vote will probably mean a “leaner, meaner” EU, with Berlin rather than Brussels bureaucrats more openly calling the shots.
During the referendum campaign, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) vainly applied to the Electoral Commission in April to be designated as the official representative for “Leave.” This coalition consists of some Stalinist leftovers who have learned nothing and forgotten nothing since the Communist Party’s “British Road to Socialism” in the 1950s, the RMT and other trade unionists, and the SPEW, the British section of the Committee for a Workers International (CWI), as well as the “union” of prison guards led by these pseudo-socialists. The TUSC was created in 2010, by much the same forces that the year before had fielded a slate called “No2EU” in elections for the insipid European Parliament.
This came after strikes in large construction projects across the UK in 2009. These involved employers subcontracting the construction of a refinery extension to an Italian company which planned to employ Italian and Portuguese workers under EU rules. Rather than fighting for a closed shop and union control of hiring, the trade-union bureaucrats, in particular UNITE, pushed the line of “British jobs for British workers.” After giving some lip service to the need for unionization, the SPEW then openly endorsed calls for putting the interests of “local” (i.e., British) workers first. In addition to supporting a chauvinist strike against immigrant workers, these reformists consider cops – the armed fist of capital – part of the working class.4
Neither the Socialist Party nor the TUSC may have contributed much in the way of votes to “Leave,” but what they did do is decisively intervene in one of the more significant workers’ struggles of the last decade to help ensure that it took a chauvinist direction. The SPEW repeated this betrayal in March of this year, when construction workers blocked a biomass power station being built in Rotherham, Yorkshire by low-wage Croatian workers. Meanwhile “No2EU” has morphed into “Trade Unionists Against the EU,” which demands nothing less than “Exit the EU on the basis of socialist policies.” And what might those be? “No to EU militarisation and an EU army,” they say. And Her Majesty’s Armed Forces?
As reformists, the Socialist Party accepts the limits of decrepit British capitalism. SPEW general secretary Peter Taaffe expected to see “fear and resentment that scarce resources in housing, education and the NHS will not be sufficient if a new wave of immigrants comes to Britain.” He complained that “even Cameron’s attempt to limit Polish immigration to Britain was met with a flat rejection by the Polish Prime Minister, Ewa Kopacz.” Taaffe is so gangrened by chauvinism that he sees a good side if Eastern European workers were barred from the UK: “If they were forced to stay [in Poland], she and the Polish capitalists would be confronted by a massive rebellion of Polish workers” (Socialist, 10 June 2015).
So Brexit won. Did this promote greater working-class unity
against national chauvinism in Europe? Not hardly. What about
Polish workers today, in Britain and in Poland, do they
benefit from Brexit? Not at all. And did the “left” Brexiteers
in Britain lift a finger to join in struggle with French
strikers who were waging an actual struggle against capitalist
austerity? No again.
Little enough distinguishes the basic Socialist Workers Party position from that of SPEW other than a somewhat different clientele and language. This, of course, means two competing coalitions, the SWP having enticed the Communist Party as well as ex-SWPers like Counterfire over to its shop, the Left Leave Campaign, or #Lexit. But like the SPEW/TUSC, the SWP/LEXIT has an abiding faith in the reformability of the British bourgeois state. The SWP’s “Six myths about the EU” (Socialist Worker, 30 March), which does not even mention the word capitalism at all, happily says that “some British workplace legislation, such as health and safety, is stronger than the EU demands,” and that much EU labor law is already written into British legislation.
If the hallmark of the SPEW’s campaign to leave the EU is giving a “socialist” cover to anti-immigrant chauvinism, the SWP’s Lexit campaign is all about calculating the odds to get a “left” government of the capitalist state. “The EU is even harder to reform than national governments are,” says its “Six myths” centerfold. “Britain’s rulers fight bitterly against any attempt at progressive reforms at home. But to force reforms on the EU would mean overpowering their resistance too.” The same theme is echoed by Tariq Ali in a debate on the EU, “Forget removing privatisation if we’re in the EU.” And again from Scottish ex-SWPer Neil Davidson: “it would be easier to achieve reforms in Westminster than in the EU, where it requires winning unanimity in the Council” (“A socialist case for leaving the EU,” Bella Caledonia, 1 March).
Although Davidson lambastes “lesser evilism,” his arguments, as well as those of Ali and the SWP’s point man on Brexit, Choonara, are all about the “lesser evil” of getting Jeremy Corbyn into the Prime Minister’s office in 10 Downing Street – or in Davidson’s case, to get the bourgeois Scottish nationalists to break from their embrace of the EU. In reality, in this period of putrefying capitalism it would be pretty difficult to undo privatization and renationalize the railways, as Corbyn proposes, whether in Westminster or Brussels. But even were that to occur, it would not alter the capitalist nature of the state one whit, nor would it do anything to get rid of poverty, mass unemployment, social service cuts, anti-immigrant repression or imperialist war. That requires nothing less than socialist revolution, which has nothing to do with Lexit.
After the “Leave” victory, the various Lexiteers are peddling the line that “People who are generally forgotten, ignored or sneered at delivered a stunning blow against the people at the top of society,” etc. (Socialist Worker, 28 June). They do admit that “the reasons for that rebellion are contradictory,” but do everything possible to play down the impact of the English chauvinism and scapegoating of immigrants and refugees that marked the campaign. There certainly was anger at an “elite,” the “establishment” and the posh boys on top telling those at the bottom how to vote. But this populist sentiment was channeled in a reactionary direction, and there is no evidence that more than a tiny percentage of voters cast a ballot for Brexit for the reasons that the Lexit crowd presented as their “left” justifications for lining up behind the chauvinist campaign.
To buttress its tale of a working-class revolt, the SWP insists that business interests were solidly against Brexit, with the exception of the stray hedge fund, small businessmen and other supposedly inconsequential sectors. “So, if the interests of British capitalism placed it firmly in the Remain camp, why all the fuss in the Tory party?” asks SWPer Callinicos in his on-line International Socialism (Summer 2016) wrap-up, “Brexit: A World-Historic Turn.” His response: “Thatcher and UKIP.” He then goes further, claiming that “Just as with Donald Trump’s capture of the Republican Party” in the U.S., “we have the paradox of the main party of big business pulling away from the interests of capital.” This is sheer fiction.
The banking industry, which has grown enormously in recent years and stands to lose its position as the financial pivot of Europe, certainly wants to stay in the EU. But that hardly represents the interests of “capital” as a whole. A reported majority of the Tory MPs for Brexit represents a significant section of capital, and as for the Docklands media, the biggest circulation papers (Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, Sun, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times) came out for Leave. The head of the British Chambers of Commerce called for “out now” and many BCC members shared his views. In fact, a major reason why Labour’s 1975 referendum passed and the Tories’ 2016 vote failed is that 40 years ago there was a solid bourgeois consensus to join the EEC, while today the British bourgeoisie is divided.
And as soon as the referendum was over, the differences over Leave and Remain were soon forgot as the reformists are back together tailing after the Labour left. Callinicos’ main complaint about the leaders of the labor movement was that they failed to deliver a left critique of the EU, and “not necessarily an internationalist and anti-capitalist one,” he added: a Tony Benn-style “left reformist critique … would serve quite well.” Rather than putting forward a revolutionary program, as always the chummy opportunists seek to “make the lefts fight.” So why not oppose all sides in this squabble within the bourgeoisie? “Abstention will simply mean invisibility and, consequently, irrelevance,” writes Davidson. Only to an inveterate parliamentary cretinist. But a hard fight against the chauvinism of both Leave and Remain concretized in internationalist class-struggle mobilizations demanding asylum for refugees and full citizenship rights for all immigrants, to shut down all the detention prisons and let the detainees out, and to block the Chunnel in support of French workers would hardly be invisible.
After three decades of vicious Thatcherite anti-working-class policies, both under the Tories (Thatcher, Major, now Cameron) and Labour (Blair and Gordon), which have massively privatized British industry and gutted services, from the mines and railways to the post office and National Health Service; after years of declining wages and seeing whole swaths of northern England turn into an industrial wasteland, there is anger aplenty in the working class that could be mobilized in struggle against the arrogant capitalist rulers who have destroyed the livelihoods of millions. But by pushing for either Leave or Remain, and thus tailing after the feuding factions of the capitalist ruling class, the not-so-radical left has done its best to squander the possibility of sharp class struggle pointing toward workers revolution.
Hard class struggle: that’s how to defeat the capitalist austerity of EU bosses and social-democrats, not tailing after one or another wing of the chauvinist British bourgeoisie. French workers at the Donges refinery and other refineries and fuel depots around the country struck in May, cutting off fuel supplies.
Forever chasing what’s popular, and squabbling among themselves when (as now) they differ over who to tail after, these reformists are incapable of seeing the class line. Such tailists are incapable of actually leading the working class to victory. This is shown whenever there is sharp struggle. During the 1984-85 coal strike, Socialist Workers Party founder Tony Cliff bragged about SWP supporters crossing miners’ picket lines in half a dozen steel plants. Cliff split from the Fourth International at the dawn of the anti-Soviet Cold War declaring the Stalinized USSR “state capitalist” and refusing to defend it against imperialist attack in the Korean War. Authentic Trotskyists defended the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state to the end while fighting for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist betrayers. Not surprisingly, when counterrevolution swept through the Soviet bloc in 1989-92, the anti-Trotskyist renegades and scabherders of the SWP cheered the U.S.-backed “democratic” counterrevolutionaries led by Boris Yeltsin – as did the leaders of the AWL (Matgamna), Workers Power, SPEW (Peter Taaffe) and the rest of the Labourite opportunists.
Today the pseudo-socialist Labourite chums are at it again, this time for and against Brexit, and then all together for Corbyn. The sorry spectacle of supposed radical leftists lining up on both sides of the dispute within the ruling class of British imperialism underscores the need to forge a Bolshevik revolutionary party in Britain. Today the League for the Fourth International calls to frontally oppose all the imperialists and bring down the EU’s Fortress Europe through internationalist class struggle to defend immigrants and smash capitalist austerity with socialist revolution. ■
- 1. In the Scottish referendum, the League for the Fourth International advocated a critical “yes” vote in favor of independence. See “For a Scottish Workers Republic in a Socialist Federation of the British Isles” (September 2014), reprinted in The Internationalist No. 40, Summer 2015.
- 2.See “Corbynmania Sweeps Britain,” The Internationalist No. 41, September-October 2015.
- 3. See “Greek Workers: Defeat the Bankers’ Diktat, Occupy the Banks and Ports!” (4 July 2015) and “Greece: The Naked Rule of Finance Capital” (18 July 2015) in The Internationalist No. 41 (September-October 2015).
- 4.See “Her Majesty’s Social Democrats in bed with the Police,” The Internationalist No. 29, Summer 2009.