‘People’s Brexit’ Faced with Disaster.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As Neil says,
“We do not ‘respect’ the vote: we denounce it and we shout our denunciation from the rooftops.”