Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

‘People’s Brexit’ Faced with Disaster.

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Image result for defend freedom of movement

“There is a blind refusal to see that a people’s Brexit provides a genuine opportunity for workers to gain confidence, challenge a weak and divided Tory government and elect a left-wing Labour government empowered to see through its socialist commitments.”

Enrico Tortolano and Ragesh Khakhria: Trade Unionists Against the EU.

Emergency Demonstration:

This Monday, 13 March, the Commons will vote on a Labour amendment to the Article 50 bill to guarantee the right of EU citizens to remain in the UK.

The Tories will use any excuse to scapegoat migrants to divide communities and deflect from their own damaging policies. This is a choice between a society for the few who will use the current crisis to justify their position and a society for the many which recognises the vital and important contributions migrants make to the country. Whether we want to remain in the EU or not, we demand the right to remain and freedom of movement for everybody.  

We must show our support as this important issue goes back to the Commons. Join the emergency demonstration at Parliament from 5.30pm on Monday evening.

The government must guarantee the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK.

People’s Assembly.

In the latest New Left Review Perry Anderson discusses President Trump.

He includes these comments on ‘populism’ in Europe and the Brexit vote.

In the Old World, the principal reason why populism of the right typically outpaces populism of the left is widespread fear of immigration; and the principal reason why this has not carried it to power is greater fear of economic retribution if the euro—detested as an instrument of austerity and loss of sovereignty though it may be—were not just denounced, as it is by populisms of the right and left alike, but actually discarded. In the UK alone, though nowhere near forming a government, a populism of the right did achieve, in the referendum on British membership of the EU, a score exceeding even Trump’s.

The victory of Brexit, Trump announced from the start, was an inspiration for his own battle in the US. What light does it throw on the unexpected outcome of the election in 2016? Fear of mass immigration was whipped up relentlessly by the Leave campaign, as elsewhere in Europe. But in Britain too, xenophobia on its own is by no means enough to outweigh fear of economic meltdown. If the referendum on the EU had just been a contest between these two fears, as the political establishment sought to make it, Remain would have no doubt won by a handsome margin, as it did in the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.

Over-determining the contest, however, were three further factors.

After Maastricht, the British political class declined the straitjacket of the euro, only to pursue a native brand of neo-liberalism more drastic than any on the continent: first, the financialized hubris of New Labour, plunging Britain into banking crisis before any other country of Europe, then a Conservative-Liberal administration of a draconian austerity without any endogenous equal in the EU. Economically, the results of this combination stand alone. No other European country has been so dramatically polarized by region, between a bubble-enclosed, high-income metropolis in London and the south-east, and an impoverished, deindustrialized north and north-east: zones where voters could feel they had little to lose in voting for Leave, a more abstract prospect than ditching the euro, come what may to the City and foreign investment. Fear counted for less than despair.

The result?

Under the largely interchangeable Labour and Conservative regimes of the neo-liberal period, voters at the bottom end of the income pyramid deserted the polls in droves. But suddenly granted, for once, the chance of a real choice in a national referendum, they returned to them in force, voter participation in depressed regions jumping overnight, delivering their verdict on desolations of both. At the same time, no less important in the result, came the historical difference separating Britain from the continent. The country was not only for centuries an empire dwarfing any European rival, but one that unlike France, Germany, Italy or most of the rest of the continent, never suffered defeat, invasion or occupation in either World War. So expropriation of local powers by a bureaucracy in Belgium was bound to grate more severely than elsewhere: why should a state that twice saw off the might of Berlin submit to petty meddling from Luxemburg or Brussels? Issues of identity could more readily trump issues of interest than in any other part of the EU. So the normal formula—fear of economic retribution outweighs fear of alien immigration—failed to function as elsewhere, bent out of shape by a combination of economic despair and national amour-propre.

Perry Anderson. Passing the Baton. New Left Review. 103. 2017.

Put slightly differently, hatred of foreigners, it was the memory, and the real trace, of imperial grandeur, government cuts and people pissing themselves with loathing of  ‘Brussels’ that fueled the Leave Vote.

I will leave it to supporters of the erudite Anderson to explain how exactly “endogenous austerity”, a feeling of having “nothing to lose”, led to the vote to Leave, without the first and last (both ‘foreign’)  factors condensing into the far from ‘floating signifier’ of Brussels. That was, apparently, crystallised in a “real choice” in the ballot box, though to do what it far from clear.

Oddly comrade Anderson makes no mention of his own, far from brief, writings on how loathsome the Belgium based EU administration is, the architect of a ‘Neo-Hayekian’ neo-liberal order, its prebends and hangers-on, “more opaque than the Byzantine, the European Union continues to baffle observers and participants alike.”

Or indeed that,

The EU is now widely seen for what it has become: an oligarchic structure, riddled with corruption, built on a denial of any sort of popular sovereignty, enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.

Perry Anderson. The Greek Debacle. 27.3.15.

It might appear that the focus of the “populism of the right”, against this structure, is, in Anderson’s judgement, justified.

Which leads us to ask: did Anderson back the  vote to  Leave?

And what would be his recipe for regaining control from the ‘oligarchs’ (not a term which he defines, let alone relates to anything resembling Marxist concepts of class and power blocs).

There is little doubt that the ‘left’ Brexiters, the ‘Lexiters’,  agreed with Anderson’s description of the EU ‘oligarchy’ and many were more than forthright in affirming their own ideas of how to restore “popular sovereignty”, in not sovereignty tout court.

One wing drew their own sense of ‘amour-propre’.

The ‘workers’, apparently, free of the neo-liberal EU, would, as Trade Unions Against the EU asserted, “gain confidence” and …through challenges, “elect a left wing Labour Government”… now no doubt able to exercise a fuller ‘sovereignty’.

But first they have to get there….

For the Socialist Party, “anger felt by millions of working class people at the decimation of their living standards, jobs and services has searched for an outlet, and over many years there hasn’t been a mass socialist alternative to channel it.  The Socialist Party predicted that the EU referendum would be used by many as a weapon against the Tory government.”

Only give the Socialist Party the arms and they’ll finish the job…..

Others on the People’s Brexit side unchained their wild hopes on  upsetting of the EU capitalist apple-cart without a clue about anything more than the immediate effect of Leave.

For some these dreams were, briefly, realised.

As the Editor of Anderson’s New Left Review, Susan Watkins, put it, ” Critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret these knocks to it, against which the entire global establishment—Obama to Abe, Merkel to Modi, Juncker to Xi—has inveighed.

Or as Tariq Ali put it finely, he was pleased, “that the majority of British voters gave the EU “a big kick in its backside.”

This has not happened.

Trump came, neo-liberalism is mutating into new, capitalist, potentially protectionist, forms, xenophobia got worse, and Labour is not, let’s be tactful, in a position to offer a new Socialist government.

The ruling Tory party has been strengthened, homegrown austerity has got worse,  and few would say that the cost of Brexit is going to be small, for workers who are part of ‘globalised’ cricuits, the ‘left behind’ and all who rely on public services.

Although Lord Islington Ali’s bubble may be as happy as he is at their spiteful gesture, many people on the left, who cherish the internationalist ideals of a  Social Europe  are decidedly not.

Brexit Now.

For those who give advice to the political class the reality of Brexit is about to hit hard:

No more baggy rhetoric about sovereignty and “taking back control”. From now on, those who got us into this situation have to show they can get us out intact by March 2019.

Brexit is about to get real. Yet we are nowhere near ready for it

 From those who give advice to the left:

There was a strong xenophobic and reactionary current in the Leave vote, but also a more politically ambiguous desire to give two fingers to Britain’s ruling elite. The most sensible course for the British left is to try and build bridges between those who opposed Brexit and those who voted for it without embracing the full platform of UKIP, the Tory right, and the Daily Mail.

Neither Washington Nor Brussels. Daniel Finn.

It is generous of Finn to advocate hands across the divide, and the People’s Assembly (that is, the pro-Brexit groupuscule, Counterfire), to follow this up at a grassroots level by calling for people to join with them to protest against the consequences of their Leave vote.

But for many of us, not least the young people who voted to Remain (75% of 18- to 24-year-olds),  and who find it beyond bizarre that any ‘left’ force could back turning the UK into a free-market rat-hole led by those intent on sucking up to Mr Brexit, President Trump, it is hard to see why we should support the tattred remnants of the People’s Brexit.

No amount of symbolical protests is going to change this.

Just to give a flavour…

Both the Lexit Left and the Corbynista Left are arguing that socialists should ‘respect’ the Brexit vote. This argument is false. It is a betrayal of every migrant worker whose status has been threatened by the vote. And it is a massive concession to the racist discourse for which Brexit is now the primary framework.


Brexit is being implemented by a hard-right Tory regime that offers permanent austerity, decaying public services, grotesque greed at the top, and mounting poverty and despair at the base. And the clinch-point – in relation to Brexit – is immigration control. May is peddling hard racism as cover for hard austerity.

The EU offers four freedoms of movement – of investment, goods, services, and people. The first three need not concern us because investment, goods, and services are controlled by capital, not us. The key issue at stake for working people is the right of free movement.

Left Unity.  Brexit, Democracy, and Oppression. Neil Faulkner

As Neil says,

“We do not ‘respect’ the vote: we denounce it and we shout our denunciation from the rooftops.”

13 Responses

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  1. IIRC Anderson was editor of New Left Review back when it published his lieutenant from the Peculiarities of the English wars Tom Nairn’s The Left Against Europe in 1972 (which I remember as it’s Penguin re-issue was first proper political book I ever read).

    May be worth revisiting that 1970s debate now that only meaningful activity left to us is to analyse how we all managed to fuck up absolutely everything.

  2. Nairn’s book was indeed important, people talked about it in the late 1970s though I was too young to have read it at the time it originally came out.

    As a subscriber to NLR I downloaded the NLR issue last year.


    Will re-read it but there are bits that stuck out immediately:

    “Socialists must be internationalists even if their working classes are not; socialists must also understand the nationalism of the masses, but only in the way in which a doctor understands the weakness or the illness of his patient. Socialists should be aware of that nationalism, but, like nurses, they should wash their hands twenty times over whenever they approach an area of the Labour movement infected by it’.

    Isaac Deutscher, On Internationals and Internationalism. Cited in The Left Against Europe. Tom Nairn. New Left Review. 1/75 1972

    Cited in Susan Watkins, Casting Off. Brexit: a world-historic turn. Alex Callinicos. Assessing Brexit from the Left.

    Tendance Coatesy: https://tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2016/09/23/susan-watkins-casting-off-brexit-a-world-historic-turn-alex-callinicos-assessing-brexit-from-the-left/

    Andrew Coates

    March 12, 2017 at 2:20 pm

  3. Meanwhile, in the real world…

    It is really, really strange what is going on. There is a very odd alliance between Labour and Tory over immigration. The logic is that the likes of Ukip were right all along! Immigration really was the cause of all the problems we faced in the UK!

    As for the pro-Brexit Left trying to capitalise on the, er, anti-Brexit sentiment of the young, well, let them try. You can fool some of the people some of the time but etc, etc….

    From the House of Lords debate on staying in the Single Market –

    “There were cries of “shame!” as Labour’s leadership in the House of Lords also confirmed that they would vote against the amendment.

    Labour’s Lord Hain, who helped sponsor the amendment, attacked his own party for prioritising reducing immigration over Britain’s future prosperity.

    “Both the government and, may I say sadly, my party leadership in the Commons, have effectively put the migration issue ahead of jobs and prosperity, and I think that’s fundamentally mistaken,” he said.”


    John Rogan

    March 12, 2017 at 9:22 pm

  4. I see (pro-Brexit) Jeremy Corbyn is now speaking at this rally organised by (pro-Brexit) People’s Momentum and the People’s Assembly (led by pro-Brexit Counterfire).

    It’s really a pro-Brexit rally, innit? A “let’s be nice to the EU migrants already here” pro-Brexit rally. It’s the Lexit Left trying to rally the anti-Brexit lefties around the EU migrants issue while Corbyn and the Shadow Cabinet pushed a three line whip to back Article 50. You know, the Article 50 which is the cause of it all. Ok, I know they tried to amend it but, in the end, a three line whip to back the unamended Article 50 shows that the Shadow Cabinet (left and right) back an unconditional EU withdrawal. An unconditional withdrawal with no safeguards for EU citizens here.

    Who knows though? Maybe Corbyn will call on the Labour leader to resign over backing the Tories anti-immigration agenda.


    John Rogan

    March 13, 2017 at 11:55 am

    • It’s the actuality of the Revolution, innit?

      Andrew Coates

      March 13, 2017 at 12:40 pm

  5. True to form, Corbyn failed to show up to the ’emergency’ Brexit rally.



    March 14, 2017 at 2:39 pm

  6. So – what (if any) practical suggestions do left remainers have to offer? Either you can seek to prevent the UK leaving the EU, or you can seek to minimise the damage and maximise any possible advantages from leaving. Either way, these are practical problems which need calm consideration. Or you can moralise and point-score against your rivals and enemies on the left, which is much easier and probably more fun.


    March 15, 2017 at 11:47 am

  7. I like fun, me.

    But I am quite seriously pro European, and can see, not to mention hear from people affected, that this is a disaster.

    Andrew Coates

    March 15, 2017 at 6:08 pm

  8. A practical suggestion? Here’s an attempt at one.

    1. Labour should adopt a Brexit Sceptic attitude. Namely, say that it wants to hear what the Tories have to offer us regarding Brexit. If the deal is a good one (e.g. no job losses, £350million to the NHS etc), then Labour would be willing to support it. If not, then Labour holds out the prospect of Remain as an option in a General Election or another Referendum.

    2. No support should have been given to Article 50 notification until we find out if it can be unilaterally revoked by the UK in the event of a bad deal. Labour could have supported a legal case for clarification.

    Instead, we have the entire Shadow Cabinet giving an unconditional support to Brexit. Sure, there will be strong questions asked of David Davis (as today) to show up Tory incompetence and “Defend the EU Migrants” amendments but, ultimately, most Labour MPs will be backing Article 50 when it comes to be invoked.

    What has Labour, at present, got to offer the Nissan workers in Sunderland (a heavy Leave area)? 44% of their production goes to the EU27 under the Single Market. Labour oppose staying in the Single Market as they believe the EU ref result was an anti-immigration one and they have to now pose as an anti-immigration party. See what Baroness Hayter had to say to Peter Hain’s pro Single Market amendment in the House of Lords.

    Watch the pound crash when Article 50 is invoked at the end of this month. Watch it crash again and again over the next few years as it becomes obvious the Tories have no clue as to what they’re doing. Watch companies move their jobs to the EU27 to keep being able to sell stuff in the Single Market.

    Labour may huff and puff but it will be remembered that they walked through the lobby to give a blank cheque to the Tories over this. I mean, what’s the point of making great speeches to point out Tory incompetence over Brexit when the fact is that incompetence is, and cannot be anything else, but part and parcel of Brexit.

    Can someone point out what Labour’s alternative to the Single Market is? The Tories see sucking up to (protectionist) Trump as part of it. What do Labour (left or right) suggest instead?

    The EU leadership (Tusk, Merkel et al) see Brexit, Trump and Putin as a threat to its existence. Tusk said last year, “it’s Hard Brexit or No Brexit”. At the moment, unless there is a complete change in Labour’s attitude, they will be completely tarnished with the Tories in leading us into the former.


    John Rogan

    March 15, 2017 at 6:34 pm

  9. Btw, just part of David Davis on his “planning” for a No Deal Brexit.

    John Rogan

    March 15, 2017 at 6:38 pm

  10. Actually, the Benn-Davis video on a No-Deal Brexit just gives us some kind of a clue as to the chaotic Brexit which is unfolding.

    John Rogan

    March 16, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    • It is really depressing.

      The hard reality is starting to dawn…

      Andrew Coates

      March 16, 2017 at 1:16 pm

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