Tendance Coatesy

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Carnival of Reaction: Diane Abbott, “Sounding like Ukip is no way for Labour to win.”

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Diane Abbott: Labour Should Hold its Nerve Against Racists Who Say: “‘What are you still doing here? We voted for Brexit.’”

What has happened to the “People’s Brexit“, or, as the leader of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey German, called, “a chance to shape the future of British society along egalitarian lines” ?

The Carnival of Reaction continues.

The latest news is that this individual had been elected to lead UKIP.

People in my family, where I live in Hackney, have been shouted at in the street and told: ‘What are you still doing here? We voted for Brexit.’ Brexit has become a euphemism for anti-immigrant feeling. “I’ve got friends on the South Coast, which is not ‘left-behind Britain’, and yet people are shouting at them on the bus: ‘Why are you still here?’”

Says comrade Diane Abbott in the I’ today.

..the shadow Home Secretary, argued that the party should “hold its nerve” and appealed to its huge membership to confront “toxic” arguments over immigration. “It’s as if the Brexit vote has given people permission to say they things didn’t feel able to say before,” she said in an interview with i.

She continues,

Ms Abbott’s appointment by Jeremy Corbyn, and her decision to take personal control of immigration policy, has dismayed some Labour MPs who fear the party’s failure to take a tougher stance on the issue will make it vulnerable to Ukip. But she has no truck with that argument, insisting: “I don’t think there’s any way forward for the Labour Party electorally from sounding Ukip-lite. “If you are attracted by Ukip arguments, you are going to vote Ukip. And in areas where they are not so upset about migration they are going to be baffled about what we are actually doing.”

The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington added: “What some of my colleagues don’t seem to bear in mind is there are
people out there who are genuinely frightened by the turn this debate has taken.” Ms Abbott blamed anti-migration feeling in many Labour-loyal areas which voted for Brexit on disaffection in post-industrial Britain and a “cry of loss for a world which isn’t coming back”. She accused New Labour of taking those areas for granted on the mistaken assumption that there was nowhere else for its natural supporters to go. Ms Abbott argued Labour’s 500,000-plus membership should take the initiative in campaigning on the continuing economic boost from migration.

It was a tough task “in the era of Farage and Le Pen and Trump” but was the right thing for the party to do, she said. “If you were a Corbynista you would feel very let down if we said anything else. “We’ve now got the biggest social democratic party in western Europe, and we have to respond to it almost conversation by conversation, but at the same time being seen to address the real concerns people have about the NHS, job security and so on “I understand how high feelings run, but I just think we have to beware of a downward spiral in the debate.”

The Independent reports,

Some Labour backbenchers are furious with Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, accusing her of trying to stamp on any debate about immigration which could see Labour trying to “outdo Ukip”.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 29, 2016 at 4:42 pm

Jeremy Corbyn Christmas Single: Get Pop-Picking Now!

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credit: Liam Scully/YouTube

Robb Johnson and the Corbynistas (Picture: YouTube).

One for all the pop-pickers out there!

The Metro reports (note, some of the words may have been slightly edited).

A Landmark Jeremy Corbyn Christmas single.

If, after a new kind of politics meeting,  you’re getting super extra excited ‘n’  full of energy and enthusiasm  to listen to this breakthrough track, the video is only a – safe – teaser – that’s right, the very best is yet to come.

The debut single is performed by Robb Johnson and the Corbynistas, and features a lot of people in lovely warm Christmas jumpers.

The video opens with Johnson on a street sweetly singing: ‘I’m voting Jeremy Corbyn, I’m voting Jeremy C. I like his ideas, they’re fair and they’re clear, Jezzer and me we agree.’.

And it ends with a group of people melodiously chanting around a table: ‘We’re voting for Jeremy Corbyn, JC 4 PM 4 ME.’

Smashy and Nicey say,” Clashtastic, mate!”ate!

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Written by Andrew Coates

November 14, 2016 at 11:51 am

Socialist Party (Ex-Militant) Apply to Join Labour in order to “Kick out the Blairites”.

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Socialist Party Campaigns to Join Labour in order to “Kick out the Blairites”.

Expelled Militant Labour members apply to rejoin party, reports the BBC.

Expelled figures linked to the former Militant wing of the Labour Party have formally applied to rejoin Labour.

 75 applicants include former Militant leaders Peter Taaffe and Dave Nellist, who was Labour MP for Coventry South East for nine years.

They cite Donald Trump’s election as US president as a motivation to “assist the struggle to transform Labour”.

The internal battle with the Militant tendency faction was one of Labour’s biggest controversies of the 1980s.

Mr Taaffe, who Thewas expelled from Labour in 1983, said: “We want to play our part in the struggle to transform Labour and urge the National Executive Committee to aid this process by admitting us, and others who have been similarly expelled or excluded, into membership.”

Mr Taaffe, now the general secretary of the Socialist Party, was expelled along with ex-MP Mr Nellist – now the chairman of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).

Their affiliations with Labour rivals mean it appears unlikely that their applications to rejoin the party will be approved.

A Labour spokeswoman told the BBC: “It is against Labour’s rules to be a member of another political party or organisation which has its own programme, principles and policy, or distinctive and separate propaganda, and which is therefore ineligible for affiliation to the party.”

The Socialist Party  (SP) statement reads,

We the undersigned urge the Labour Party NEC to accept the joint application for Labour Party membership made by 75 activists who have previously been expelled or excluded from Labour for their socialist ideas. In total they have over 1,000 years of membership of the Labour Party.

Among the 75 are members of the Militant Editorial Board, including Peter Taaffe, now general secretary of the Socialist Party; Tony Mulhearn, one of the leaders of the struggle of Liverpool City Council in the 1980s; and Dave Nellist, previously Labour MP for Coventry South East.

They are socialists, trade unionists and anti-austerity activists who should have a place in the Labour Party.

Whether this is a “publicity stunt” (Morning Star) to mark the SP’s weekend event Socialism 2016 or not there are points to be made.

We note the following:

  • In asserting their right to a “place in Labour’ the Socialist Party makes no mention of dissolving its organisation. The Guardian states, “Taaffe said his aim was for the Socialist party to affiliate to Labour, and ultimately field joint candidates – and the application process would be part of a “rolling petition” by his supporters. He was dismissive of Momentum, the grassroots group set up to support Corbyn and transform the Labour movement. “We don’t agree with Momentum,” he said, singling out Jon Lansman, its chair, for criticism. “He doesn’t agree with compulsory reselection. What is the point of Jeremy Corbyn without the right to remove the Blairites, who are an enormous drag on the progress of the Labour party?”
  • The Socialist Party has the goal of ‘removing’ the Blairites, that is purging them from the Labour Party. As they state, “the idea now of building a mass movement to keep Jeremy Corbyn and drive out the Blairites as part of preparing to fight and win a general election is widely accepted among rank and file Corbyn supporters.” (The Socialist). In other words Taaffe wants to join Labour – and will complain that his democratic rights are denied if he is not admitted – in order to purge the party of political opponents.
  • The Socialist Party is a Leninist party which does not tolerate internal differences of its own. It has also a long history of trying to impose its ‘line’ on other groups on the left.
  • In 2010 its trade union front, the National Shop Stewards Network, announced support for the “NSSN All-Britain Anti-Cuts campaign”, a rival body to the trade union backed, “Coalition Of Resistance.” There were complaints from the minority of non-SP members active in the NSSN, “Launching a further national anti-cuts campaign, while obstructing cooperation with other organisations, would be a retrograde step, as well as changing the nature and direction of the NSSN. If the NSSN becomes controlled by one political party which is unwilling to work constructively with any other shop stewards in the network, we would see no point in further participation. Confirmation that this is the way the the SP intends to proceed seems to be borne out by events since the meeting of the Steering Committee – the secretary has unilaterally announced that only SP members will represent the NSSN at 2 forthcoming meetings discussing left/anti-cuts cooperation, with not even a pretence at consultation with non-SP officers .” (Socialist Unity) This lack of ‘consultation’, in fact making decisions without any reference to the minority in the formal leadership of the NSSN, was described in much, much, greater detail by those involved and bore the marks of the culture of a classic sect/cult.  It would be tiresome to list all the other examples of this behaviour. They can be summed up by describing them as the actions of a ‘miniature’ orthodox Communist Party with its ‘front organisations’ run by the Party’s own leading bodies.
  • The Socialist Party actively campaigned for a Brexit vote during the European referendum. As formidable mythomanes,  at a local meeting, and no doubt elsewhere, they talked of a great, indeed massive,  movement on the European left and workers’ movement  to support Britain leaving the EU. It rapidly turned out (that is after asking other European comrades) that their network of support was based on the ultra-sectarian, nationalist, anti-EU and negligible electoral force, the French based Trotskyist group, Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique (POID). Their ‘international’  meeting, last may, is reported  here . Pour le Brexit Mai 2016. POID, is the result of, you guessed it, a 2015 split, that is with the  Parti ouvrier indépendant. That group scored 0,34 % of the vote in the 2007 Presidential elections, with  Gérard Schivardi, now a member of POID.
  • The Socialist Party has formed the backbone of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), “In the 2015 General Election TUSC stood 135 prospective parliamentary candidates across England, Wales and Scotland, as well as 619 council candidates in local elections. The party performed badly at the election, winning 36,327 votes, or 0.1% of the popular vote. No parliamentary seats were gained and no deposits were saved (Wikipedia).

Regardless of the merits of admitting individuals who have been in the SP into Labour  the application, en masse, of Socialist Party members to join the Party is not welcome.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2016 at 11:50 am

Donald Trump, “Mr Brexit”: Today is ‘gonna be Brexit plus, plus, plus’.

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Mr Brexit.

Speaking in North Carolina, Republican candidate Mr Trump – who called himself ‘Mr Brexit’ during the campaign – promised that today was ‘gonna be Brexit plus, plus, plus’. reports the Daily Mail.

The view of this Blog is that Trump is a disgusting pile of cack.

Beyond this we have not commented on his Presidential Bid.

But in evoking Brexit he has strayed into our Manor.

We wonder what those who relished Brexit, such as Susan Watkins, Editor of New Left Review, who said, “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”, Tariq Ali, who was “Pleased’ Brexit Has Given EU  “Big Kick’ up ‘Backside‘”, those who believed it was a sign of the actuality of the revolution (Counterfire), a time to mobilise for a “People’s Brexit” (People’s Assembly), or a working-class ‘revolt’ against ‘elites’ (SWP and Socialist Party) think of Trump’s claims.

Actually we don’t give a toss.

For us the Republican Candidate is the Brexit Carnival of Reaction incarnate.

 Tendance Coatesy will not go into details about the problems about his contender.

For the moment we sincerely wish Hillary Clinton success – come what may.

Tariq Ali meanwhile has other ideas, ” Tariq Ali: Is Trump Any Worse Than Clinton? I’d Vote For Jill Stein.

If Ali’s stentorian voice is not enough to convince people that Hillary is the only option we would wish for, Galloway broadcast this yesterday:

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 8, 2016 at 11:38 am

Momentum Crisis: The Steering Group Majority Answers Critics – some comments.

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What Kind of New Politics? 

I am a difficult position commenting on the crisis of Momentum.

Not a member, but sympathetic to its broad direction, not with a card, but knowing many of the people involved in the dispute, in some cases for many years..

Like many my basic principle is that  I would like to see a strong Labour democratic socialist left.

As Tony Benn often said, politics should be about issues, not personalities. He was optimistic, and perhaps ignored the history of democracies since Pericles, but in the Labour Party one ought to try to focus on this, rather than the merits, or otherwise of Jeremy Corbyn and the Shadow Cabinet.

Firstly, I would like to see some meat on the bones of anti-austerity politics. That is serious policies on issues like public ownership instead of private public services, social security (Labour has no developed ideas comparable to the TUC/Unemployed Centres’ Combine Welfare Charter), housing, education, health, renationalisation, union rights, low pay, local authorities,  what UNITE calls Brexit on our terms, that is trying to salvage what we can, (not the ridiculous denial strategy of those who propose a ‘People’s Brexit’ after the defeat of collectivism and Another Europe is Possible in the Referendum), and…. I could continue the list.

Campaigning on these topics in the wider community is a way of connecting with our electorate and helping make it grow.

Secondly, like many I am not prepared to be silent about the disagreements left-wing internationalists have with the party leadership on issues such as Syria  and the need to fight all forms – state or not – of  reactionary Islamism.

Finally I would like to see Labour win elected positions, from councillors to MPs.

Momentum has become central to this democratic socialist project and therefore I, and others, are bound to react to the present dispute.

I do not want a fight between different tendencies, factions, and let’s be frank, groupuscules.

The present dispute centres on this, “Lansman, the founder of Momentum, was tonight accused of behaving in an “autocratic” manner after the organisation voted to delay a meeting of its national committee to December and that the vote on its founding principles in February 2017 would be using a one member, one vote system rather than a delegate system.” (Steven Bush New Statesman.)

This decision was opposed. The following resolution explains why,

“This meeting of the London Momentum censures the national Steering Committee for cancelling the meeting of the National Committee that was scheduled for 5 November and for agreeing a method of organising the national conference without waiting for the National Committee to discuss it.

“We do not recognise the legitimacy of the Steering Committee to make those decisions.

“We call for these decisions of the national Steering Committee on the conference and the National Committee to be rescinded and for the NC to proceed as originally scheduled on 5 November.”

Christine Shawcroft  explains why Momentum decided as they did.

These are the key sections of her article published today.

Members can vote for what ever kind of Momentum they want (Left Futures)

..what works as a temporary expedient when an organisation is first being set up and finding its feet is not necessarily what would work best in the long term. Like all new organisations, Momentum has had its teething troubles (as I run a day nursery, I know all about those!). The first people involved in trying to get it going were, by definition, more versed in the ways of the ‘old’ politics than the ‘new’. Working with enthusiastic young people with a different perspective on things has meant we’ve all been travelling along a learning curve. The temporary structures that were set up tended to be modelled on those of the Labour Party – decidedly not the new politics! Many local groups felt that a delegate structure tended to prevent grassroots participation by default.

The (temporary) Steering Group has therefore decided that the best way of involving all the members is to, well, involve them. Proposals for how we organise will be put out to the whole membership, any one of whom could also put their own proposals or amendments. There would still be a place for local groups and delegate structures, but final decisions on Momentum’s core politics, our code of conduct, and our democratic structures could be voted on by our greatest resource – the membership. A Founding Conference in spring next year could be live streamed and proposals voted for online.

On the Steering Group we feel that this could well answer the call for a new, inclusive and democratic way of doing things. And if the members disagree, and really want to ape Labour Party structures and have rigid decision making delegate bodies – well, it’s up to them. They can vote for whatever kind of Momentum they want: not only is that the new way of doing politics, that’s democracy!

Tony Greenstein has stuck is oar in and given the reasons for objecting to this idea.

Jon Lansman stages a Coup D’état in Momentum as the National Committee is cancelled by the Steering Committee.

The  Long Awaited Founding Conference of Momentum Will Be a Virtual Conference!

Describing this in typically restrained manner (“Coup D’état”)  Greenstein notes of Momentum’s way of evolving more permanent structures and policies,

Over the coming months, members will propose their ideas on Momentum’s aims, ethics, and structure. We will use digital technology to ensure that all members can be involved and shape Momentum’s future.”

This is the very opposite of democracy.” “It is designed to atomise individual members and undermine conference as the collective decision-making body of Momentum. It underlines the extent to which sections of the left have internalised the defeats of the past decades. It is Thatcher’s union ‘reforms’ writ large.

As somebody who respects (most, Greenstein being a major exception) individuals on both sides of this controversy (and if you look at the names who have backed Lansmann you will recognise that is not a straightforward division between ‘right’ and ‘left’), it would appear that there are merits in the majority’s decision.

It is also possible both to understand exasperation at it, and the way it was voted on.

At the same time many will harbour the feeling that some figures emerging in the local groups, including those with very very long histories of non- and even anti-Labour activism behind them, are not always greeted by people, like Christine, who have been Labour stalwarts for their entire lives.

One can also agree that  a meeting called with 19 hours notice is not the best forum for such a controversial decision.

But if a Conference is not to be the traditional sectarian bear pit there needs to be this kind of participation.

If it One Member One Vote (OMOV) was good enough to elect the leader of the Party it must have some virtues.

To repeat: I want to see a strong democratic socialist left, not the left of the party riven by factionalism. 

Update: Latest in the growing Row.

Dear Comrade, 31 October 2016

Re: A meeting of Momentum National Committee delegates to discuss the present situation & consider solutions

Over the past few days we have all been involved in discussions with Momentum members about the concerns which have arisen from the decisions of the Steering Committee to cancel the meeting of the NC due to take place on 5 November and to go ahead with a national conference with online voting of all members.

You will also know the consternation these decisions have caused and the response from London, Eastern, Northern and South East regions.

Below is an email sent yesterday (30 October) to the Steering Committee members from Matt Wrack who is a member of the National Committee and Steering Committee. We echo those observations and comments.

We are extremely concerned that we overcome this current difficult division that has arisen as quickly as possible. Therefore, we are proposing to convene a meeting of as many NC members as possible in Birmingham next Saturday 5 November to discuss the recent events and, most importantly, consider ways to overcome the resulting differences and to move forward together.

There is no desire or intention to create any separate or parallel organisation within or in opposition to Momentum. We are all committed to building Momentum, as we are all doing at a local level. We simply want to address what we perceive to be a democratic deficit in its decision-making at the present time.

Please let us know if you can attend. If you can’t, is there someone you can send in your place?

We will send out further information about the venue and starting time along with a provisional agenda as soon as we can.

In solidarity,

Matt Wrack
Delia Mattis    ) London NC delegates
Jill Mountford   ) “ “
Nick Wrack      )  “ “
John Pickard    ) Eastern NC delegate
Steve Battlemuch ) East Midlands delegate
Michael Chessum ) Member of national Steering Committee

More:  Momentum chiefs accused of “coup” over adoption of all-member ballot Conor Pope. Labour List.

Further splits have emerged within Momentum amid claims of a “coup” after the introduction of reforms to the way it makes internal decisions.

The Corbynite group spent much of the weekend debating internal divisions over direction, structure and accountability while one senior member has forecast a “revolt for democracy” in the organisation, which recently marked its first anniversary.

The group’s founder, Jon Lansman, is at the centre of the row, having given his support to a controversial move to hand a vote to every Momentum member about how the organisation should function.

The latest tensions emerged over the decision to call an emergency meeting of Momentum’s small steering committee on Friday to discuss postponing a meeting of the much larger national committee, which had been scheduled for later this week.

See link for rest of the article.

Yet more:

Written by Andrew Coates

October 31, 2016 at 2:19 pm

Corbyn: Pro-Immigration Against anti-Migrants – of ‘Left’ and Right.

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Immigration Controls: from pro-Brexit ‘left’ to Rachel Reeves’ Dire Warnings. 

Nothing illustrates the often artificial divisions between Left and Right in the labour and socialist movement than the issues of immigration and migration.

On the one side are those like the authors of the recent Fabian publication arguing for a hard-line against immigration,

Three of the MPs – Rachel Reeves, Emma Reynolds, and Stephen Kinnock – explained in articles for the Fabian Society that the party should change tack on migration rights in response to the Brexit vote that won in many of Labour’s English and Welsh heartlands.

Reeves, in quotes reported by The Huffington Post, said: “Immigration controls and ending free movement has to be a red line post-Brext – otherwise we we will be holding the voters in contempt.”

Kinnock added: “The referendum had a clear message: the limitless nature of freedom of movement, despite its proven economic benefits, is not socially and politically sustainable.”

Reynolds said that “no future deal [with the EU] can retain free movement of people in its present form” adding that Leave voters had asked for migration to be cut whatever the economic implications.

They were preceded by the nationalist British Communist Party (CPB) and the Socialist Party (SP),

Robert Griffiths as leader of Britain’s ‘official’ communists in the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain; argued against the “the super-exploitation of migrant workers”. Not, you udnertanad, to create a Europe wide (EU) system of raising standards, but, raising the drawbridges against the said ‘migrant workers’.

The Socialist party has argued for “local jobs for local workers” – sufficiently often to be noticed by the European Press.

Clive Heemskerk is one of the central leaders of the Socialist Party, has argued “The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle, but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.” (Socialism Today September 2016.)

In other words immigration controls-  perhaps on the model of the ‘closed shop’?- should form a central part of ‘socialist’ policy.

Far from being a ‘victory’ against ‘Capital’ the principal effect of their ‘Brexit’ on the labour movement has been the rise in calls for ending the freedom of movement of people.

Rachel Reeves has since issued this warning (Independent).

Labour MP Rachel Reeves: Riots could sweep streets of Britain if immigration isn’t curbed after Brexit.

Former Shadow Cabinet minister Rachel Reeves has warned that Britain could “explode” into rioting if immigration is not curbed after Brexit.

The former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary warned that there were “bubbling tensions” over immigration that could spill over into violence if the deal agreed with the rest of the EU did not include an end to freedom of movement.

Speaking at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool on Tuesday afternoon, the Leeds West MP said the party must listen to voters’ concerns.

She said: “We have got to get this right because there are bubbling tensions in this country that I just think could explode.

You had those riots in 2011… If riots started again in Leeds and bits of my constituency – it’s like a tinderbox.”

Ms Reeves, who left the Shadow Cabinet last year when Jeremy Corbyn was first elected leader, rejected claims that she was “Red Ukip” for calling for an end to mass immigration.

She was one of several moderate Labour MPs who campaigned for Britain to remain in the EU but said it should accept immigration controls now that the public had decided to leave.

One wing of the pro-Brexit and pro-immigration control ‘left’, cited above, is going to have a hard time explaining away their support for tougher immigration controls..

The ‘best friends’ of Jeremy Corbyn from the CPB and the SP, and others, who back these reactionary policies, will have to answer this.

Corbyn sets out his stall on Labour’s immigration divide

In his speech to the Labour Party Conference this afternoon, Jeremy Corbyn will reiterate his commitment to liberal immigration policy.

‘A Labour government will not offer false promises,’ he will tell delegates. ‘We will not sow division or fan the flames of fear. We will instead tackle the real issues of immigration – and make the real changes that are needed.’

The party has spent most of its conference week attempting to unite after a summer of acrimony, but on immigration the divides are only getting deeper.

Some, like Rachel Reeves, have taken a hard line on stopping European freedom of movement — she has argued that not to do so would mean ‘holding voters in contempt.’

Chuka Umunna, too, has suggested that ending freedom of movement should be a red line in Brexit talks, even if it means losing enhanced access to the single market.

And many more have danced close to the fence, insisting that Labour must be more attentive to voters’ concerns about immigration, but in a progressive, left-wing way.

With today’s speech, Corbyn is making clear that his pro-immigrant stance has not changed and will not change in the aftermath of the referendum.

This is a tough issue.

I must say I am immensely encouraged by Corbyn’s speech.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 28, 2016 at 1:05 pm

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

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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. 1971.

La terre nous donne une discipline, et nous sommes les prolongements des ancêtres

Nous sommes le produit d’une collectivité qui parle en nous. Que l’influence des ancêtres soit permanente, et les fils seront énergiques et droits, la nation une.

The soil gives us a discipline, and we are the extension over time of our ancestors….We are the product of a collective life which speaks in us. . May the influence of our ancestors be permanent, the sons of the soil vital and upstanding, the nation One.

La terre et les morts. Maurice Barrès. 1899. (1)

Susan Watkins, Casting Off (New Left Review 100. July-August 2016). Brexit: a world-historic turn. Alex Callinicos.  International Socialism. Issue: 151. 2016.)

Casting Off, in the latest New Left Review begins by observing that the “surprise” of the Leave vote in the June Referendum went against the wishes the “ruling class” “much of the intelligentsia” and “much of its youth”. In a choice expression she compares lamentations about the result on Facebook to a “Wailing Wall”. Those beating their brows at the loss of the EU Jerusalem “in one account” were full of “nightmares of xenophobia”. “Britons having ‘voted to make foreigner-hunting legal, if not an actual duty.’”. Many people in Europe, she notes, that is, Germans and French, were unconcerned. Only a third of Germans and a quarter of the French were “unhappy about Brexit”.

Was this the result of the “ressentiment”, bottled up rancour stewing amongst “globalisation’s losers”? An ” insurrectionary protest against neoliberalism, globalism and cultural contemp” as Paul Mason put it (le Monde Diplomatique. July.) ?  Or more simply was a revolt of the left-behind, spearheaded by the working class, the unemployed, the casualised, and the poor. In Brexit, Alex Callinicos has written that, “All the polls show that the poorer you are the more likely you were to vote Leave. This means that millions of working class voters have gone unrepresented by the mainstream of the labour movement”. He trumpets his own group, the SWP, which backed the Leave campaign on a ‘left’ basis (Left-Exit, lexit). “Lexit offered a political voice, albeit a small one, to working class people who wanted to reject the EU on a class basis.” (2)

Anti-Globalisation?

For Watkins the result was not a rebellion against the distant mechanisms of finance capital and the world market. It has domestic origins, in British government policies laid down since the 2008 banking crisis, Gordon Brown’s turn to fiscal rigour, and the Liberal Conservative Coalition’s austerity programme. As a result scare mongering about the potential negative effects on the economy of Brexit had little impact on those already at the bottom of the pile. In “the Leave districts that have been depressed since the 1970s, with gdp per capita less than half inner-London levels, and now hardest hit by cutbacks in services and benefits, bleakness and desperation appear to have trumped economic fear.” She continues. “Anti-globalisation, then? Of a sort, if globalisation means not just deindustrialisation and low pay but disenfranchisement and politically targeted austerity.” In the south the ‘anti-Globo stand was different, “Their economic interests had been carefully nurtured by the Cameron-Osborne governments and their vote was more purely ideological: fear of change overcome by reassertion of ex-imperial national identity. Britain had never been conquered by Germany, so why was it ceding powers to Brussels?”

In this vein both Watkins and Callinicos play down the role of xenophobia and, more specifically, anti-migrant worker sentiment, in the referendum. Both note the mainstream Remain campaign’s supporters, beginning with the Prime Minister David Cameron’s “talking tough” on migration. For Callinicos, “at least as powerful a force is likely to be an alienation from the economic and political elite crystallising the experience of 40 years of neoliberalism and nearly 10 years of crisis expressed in stagnant or falling wages, unemployment, dwindling social housing and a shrinking welfare state. The EU as the incarnation of neoliberalism and contempt for democracy is a perfect symbol of all these discontents. London, site of a global financial hub, may have voted to Remain”

The pair concur on one point, “….the main reason given by the bulk of Leave voters—49 per cent—was the notion that ‘decisions about the uk should be taken in the uk’, a more ambiguous formulation that could include democratic, sovereign and nationalist perspectives. “ (Watkins), “Lord Ashcroft’s referendum-day poll found that nearly 49 percent of Leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the EU was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”, compared to 33 percent who gave the main reason for leaving that it “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.” (Callinicos).

There are three central problems with these claims.

Racism.

Firstly, it is absurd to compare the Conservative Remain campaigners’ talk of ‘control’ of migration in the same breath as the blood-and-fire rhetoric of UKIP and their echo-chambers on the Leave side. To dismiss the issue by ranking its importance on the basis of an opinion poll is to assume that one motive trumped the other rather than coalescing with it.

As Kim Moody has argued, immigration was at the centre of the campaign. “A majority of all those who voted Leave ranked immigration and border control as their 1st or 2nd reason. Those in the top social rank were less likely to give this as their first reason than others, but all groups were the same for 2nd choice and all Leave voters put immigration high on their list. Anti-immigrant and xenophobic views were prevalent in all social groups. This is not meant to be a comforting conclusion.” (3) Furthermore, “One section of British corporate capital that threw its majority weight loudly behind Brexit was the daily press.” “The Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, Daily Telegraph, and Sun, all known for their anti-immigrant bias and with a combined daily circulation of just over 5 million, supported Brexit.”(Ibid)

It would not have taken long, a visit to the pub in less well-off areas, would suffice to hear people publicly repeating the right-wing tabloid’s anti-migrant propaganda melded with their own prejudiced anecdotes. Perhaps it would have taken longer to visit Ipswich market and see the UKIP placard carrying crew sitting on the benches ranting about Romanians. But such sights were not rare. Anywhere.

Few could doubt that cosmopolitan pro-European hipsters would shy from these displays. But what exactly drove the minority who followed Lexit to cast their ballots in the same way and how do their asses their achievement in bolstering the nationalist right? Callinicos asserts that “The emergence of the Lexit Campaign, advocating a left, internationalist opposition to the EU, was one of the successes of the referendum. Not because it swung a massive number of votes, but because it brought together a significant spectrum of forces on the radical left to campaign for a Leave vote on an anti-capitalist and anti-racist basis that (unlike some earlier left anti-EU campaigns) had no truck with migrant-bashing.” Really? Is the Socialist Party’s call for control (by trade unions?) of the entry of migrant labour, joined by the Morning Star-Communist Party of Britain, part of this “anti-racism”? Does the SWP really have that much in common with the CPB who push a barely revamped version of the 1970s Alternative Economic Strategy, completed – and why not? – with capital and import controls? Was it a ‘success’ to see New Left review, the SWP and all the others, cavort on a Camden stage in the company of a – suitably disguised – supporter of the French ‘Lambertist’ current, one-time Trotskyists who having sipped from that poisoned cup have become ultra-nationalists? (4)

Austerity.

Secondly, what were the “non-immigration” issues behind the Leave vote? Casting Off describes “the slow, still inchoate politicisation that had been taking place in the aftermath of the financial crisis”, and “the Exit vote would not have happened without the financial crisis and skewed, class-based recovery.” Callinicos talks more broadly of UKIP’s rise as part of “ordinary voters’ revulsion against the entire political and economic elite.” The “very unanimity of establishment opposition to Brexit is likely to have goaded many people into the Leave camp simply as an act of defiance.”

Absent is any account of the mass, country-wide, left and trade union austerity campaigns, co-ordinated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PA) Had this no effect in channelling ressentiment against the ‘elite’ towards progressive solutions? Did its protests, marches, conferences, pickets and pressure on local councils, count for little?

It is true that their impact was decreasing in the run up to the Referendum. An April London March barely attracted 20,000 – despite the freedom that the end of Police estimates gave to the organisers to claim an attendance of 175,000 (in a half empty Trafalgar Square). Clearly this ‘incipient politicisation” has drained away in a different direction. A look at how the politics of protest are foundering might throw up the reflection that the victory of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party indicates that political institutions can be the focus of change, rather than the street. The hard task of getting Labour local authorities to oppose austerity, not just because of the legacy of Blair’s accommodations, but as a result of an armour-plated legal budget controls over councils, has begun. The problems this turn to Labour creates for those, like Callinicos, and his former comrades in Counterfire, the majority of the active leadership of the PA, begin with the recognition that the Brexit vote as a “representation” of opinion, which more walking about in the roads, attempts to bathe in Corbyn’s reflected glory, and calls for general strikes, are unlikely to revolve.

Sovereigntism.

Thirdly, the Brexit result was a boost to sovereigntism, the belief that politics has to focus on nations, and on the ‘people’s’ control over the national body politic. In this respect Chantal Mouffe’s declaration that the vote was a “salutary shock” is less significant than her immediately following words. The Belgian political philosopher stated, “That’s because I am one of those so-called ‘left-wing Europeanists who are not sovereigntists but instead demand a democratic refoundation of Europe” Pleasure with the damage to the City and neo-liberal forces is one thing, but what harm did this create to ‘sovereigntism”? (5)

The evidence against rash claim lives in Downing Street. Yet, against Mouffe for many it has reinforced the illusion, that in some form sovereigntism can be the basis of left politics. To cite the most obvious source of how far this ideology has crept into leftist circles: the conclusion of Mouffe’s  jointly-authored of Podemos (2016) Iñigo Errejón has called for the construction of a “..we the people “that demands sovereignty and a new social contract”. To build this we have “to think about the effective, mythical and cultural commonness of any identity construction”. Or, in an even more abstract vein, to follow Frédéric Lordon, politics based on “un commun passional” bound to “une certaine appartenance” (belonging) not to a hypostatised nationality but to “la nation politique” a political construction. (6) In other words, in contrast to Barrès, a newly minted sovereign feeling, without the clamour of ancestral voices, embodied in institutions. They would surely be able to take “decisions about the UK in the UK.” The evidence is that those appealing directly to the dead voices of our forbears, the racist populist right, have had more success in the sovereigntist venture.

Callinicos, with customary grace towards those who disagree with him, outlined the choices for the left at the start of the campaign, “between the neoliberal imperialist monstrosity that is the EU, strongly supported by the main echelons of British capital, and the xenophobic and racist Thatcherites that dominated the Leave campaigns.” In his conclusion he opines, no doubt to warn those not averted to the possibility, that British capitalism is “entering very stormy waters.” The defeat of an invigorated Tory party under Teresa May, at the helm of state, will doubtless be the coming work of a mass movement conjured from the depths.

Democratic Refoundation?

Those who chose to vote for the “monstrosity” as “not worse” may well still feel unhappy at the result – for all the tempests in the global capitalist oceans. Many of our legal rights, consolidated in EU law, are now to put to the test of a sovereign Parliament for which we have ambiguous passionate feelings. The democratic refoundation of Europe, if pursued, and developed by forces such as DiEM25, will take place without our directly interested participation. We risk becoming further stuck in our backwater.

But for others there is this consolation. Our “sub-imperial” “far from prefect Hayekian order” has taken a blow. Watkins speaks of a victory for British (English) nationalism, in a “a semi-sovereign state” Yet the defeat is clear, for several – scattered – targets, “ For now, though, it is plain that Blairised Britain has taken a hit, as has the Hayekianised EU. 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.” (7)

The prospect of the “actuality of revolution” by “critics of the neoliberal order”, a “world-historic turn”….still leaves them shaking in their boots….

For the rest of us, Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union,  expressed our view (Morning Star 12th of September),

The Brexit vote was a defeat for the working class in Britain as well as internationally. It was a defeat for internationalism and collectivism. Brexit was a victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists. Brexit has already had detrimental economic effects and worse is likely to come.

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(1) On Barrès and his concept of the “people” and nation see the illuminating, Le peuple chez Maurice Barrès, une entité insaisissable entre unité et diversité. Brigitte Kurlic. SensPublic. 2007.

(2). See also: The internationalist case against the European Union. Alex Callinicos. International Socialism. Issue: 148. 

(3) Was Brexit a Working-Class Revolt? Kim Moody. International Viewpoint. 14th of September 2016.

(4) Both the Morning Star’s CPB and SPEW advocate immigration controls and socialism in one country, notes Mike Macnair. Weekly Worker 15.9.2015. In report here: Paris Anti-EU Rally: French ‘Lambertist’ Trotskyists Receive Backing from UK ‘Lexit’ Campaign.

(5) A Salutary Shock. Chantal Mouffe. Verso. (From Mediapart 27th June 2016)

(6) Podemos. In the Name of the People. Iñigo Errejón in Conversation with Chantal Mouffe. Lawrence and Wishart. 2016. Imperium, Structures et affets des corps politiques. Frédéric Lordon. La Fabrique. 2015.

(7) See: Prognoses. In: The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Verso 2009.