People’s Assembly Debates Consequences of Brexit.
Before the Referendum the left advocates of a vote to leave had no words too harsh for the European Union (EU). Setting their intellectual framework Perry Anderson in 2009 asserted that it had established a “semi-catallaxy”, a “far from perfect Hayekian order”, that is a willed “spontaneous” free market far from popular control, with a “dense web of directives and often dubious prebends”. It was a “deputy empire” to the United States. The 2008 Banking crisis, austerity, tightened in the Euro-zone to mean a block on any attempts, as Greece saw, to offer alternative policies, it has become the institutional embodiment of ‘neo-liberalism’. The EU was remote not just from left politics, but from the peoples of Europe Put crudely, as Tariq Ali so often does, voting to Leave would mean giving a kick up the backside to all that. (1)
Counterfire, the principal force in the shrunken People’s Assembly, listed a version of this account. The central reasons to vote Leave were: it would strengthen the position of all those fighting austerity in Europe, especially the south; It would protect the next Labour government from challenges to reform under European law; The British, European and US ruling classes all want us to “stay”; The EU is turning into Fortress Europe; Brexit would mess up the Tories for a generation. (Five Reasons to Leave the EU. 2005)
The ‘predictions’ in this list have all been proved false.
Brexit has not strengthened any European force apart from the ‘Sovereigntist’ far right in countries such as France and Germany. The Front National now sees the assertion of national sovereignty, including protectionism, as a realistic strategy. For them it proves that the ‘nation’, the ‘people’ can assert itself against the EU.
Brexit has not ‘messed up’ the Tories who have discovered unity around their own version of Sovereigntism, bringing ‘control’ back to the ‘people’ ‘Hard Brexit’.
The American ruling class, at least the in the ungainly shape of Donald Trump, has enthusiastically welcomed Brexit.
Whether or not Parliament will be free from potential European threats to a Labour government’s plans remains to be seen: an “open” Britain will be submitted directly to the rules of the international market for the immediate future.
Fortress Europe, that is the policy of controlling settlement but allowing millions to gain refugee to the Continent, continues. Brexit has now introduced the issue of further barriers, this time against migrant labour entering Britain.
Counterfire, whose Lindsey German is also a leader of the Stop the War Coalition, as well as the People’s Assembly, has made the issue of Islamophobia central to their politics. In their view the central aspect of racism in Europe today is hostility to Muslims. Their role, like that of their original group, the Socialist Workers Party, has been not only to defend – to cite Anderson again – the religious “protective shell of uprooted and vulnerable communities”. They have also seen in radical Islamism the potential seeds of ‘anti-imperialist’ revolt, in which the “struggle” would remove the outward garb of faith. (2)
There is little doubt that as Perry Anderson noted in the book cited above, Christopher Caldwell’s prediction that there would be deep conflicts over the existence of large Islamic communities in Europe would come about has been borne out. (Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. 2009) That this immigration was, “less manageable and less soluble than any that had come before it.” But was this the central aspect of what Perry Anderson called a “process of disintegration”, the result of mass immigration for economic reasons that just “happened” without popular consent? And what should the left’s response be? (3)
The progressive way is to respect diversity but to promote secularism. Counterfire and the SWP have refused to support liberal secular currents within Muslim Communities. Like the Orientalists they abhor they consider the ‘timeless’ nature of Islamic culture is a source of revolt, or reaction. For this fraction of the left, the brave individuals from a Muslim background, and the hundreds of thousands who support those who challenge the ‘conservative’ (a polite way of saying reactionary) leadership of the ‘community’ and the Salafist outriders are simply aping Western liberalism.
Yet, when the same forces are involved in the much wider alliances that include democratic groups fighting the ‘anti-imperialist’ regime of Bashir Assad, the same ‘eternal’ logic pushes a substantial number of the Stop the War Coalition’s supporters, not to say the Morning Star, to lump the lot onto the side of reaction.
Double standards barely covers this.
From Fortress Europe to British Castle.
Yet is European racism focused on prejudice against ‘Muslims’? Leaving aside the growth in anti-Semitism, Brexit has hardened hostility, hatred, towards European migrant workers. This massive fact can be heard every day in workplaces, the street, and the pub – in every social venue. This, only one aspect of the Carnival of Reaction that followed the Brexit vote, now dominates and divides debate on the left.
The suggestion that there should be a “two-tier” migration policy, access for the qualified and better off, no entry for the unskilled, is gaining ground. UNITE has proposed that workers can only be recruited amongst the already unionised or covered by collective agreements. That “posted workers” under all forms of ‘detached’ arrangements, that is people employed under the terms and conditions that exist in their home countries, should be banned.
Of these suggestions only the latter measures up to the standard of equality. But if people are to be taken on under the same conditions, why does this not apply to recruitment? Are only the unionised allowed employment in the UK? Perhaps, some might suggest, the unrealistic nature of the UNITE proposal is intentional Assuming that its officers are all too aware of how Agencies take on staff (not to say, reduce them to zero-hour contracts at the employers’ beck and call), one might suspect that this is a call to satisfy those with less noble concerns about the presence of migrants.
With these, and many other considerations in mind, this is the People’s Assembly’s latest event.
7pm, Thursday 19 January, St Pancras Church, Euston Road, NW1 2BA.
Amelia Womack – Deputy Leader, Green Party
Kevin Courtney – General Secretary, National Union of Teachers
Lindsey German – People’s Assembly
Malia Bouattia – NUS President
Steve Turner – Assistant General Secretary, UNITE
Alex Gordon – Former President RMT.
This the blurb.
This has been a year full of surprises; the Political landscape is changing at an unprecedented rate. Our new (un-elected) Prime Minster and her cabinet clearly have no real plan. One thing is for sure, if the last 6 years are anything to go by, if the Tories are left to handle Brexit negotiations on their own we’ll see a deal that suits the bankers, the bosses and the corporations. What should we be demanding from the government that means Brexit is negotiated in the interests of the people? However you voted in the EU referendum, we need to put pressure on the Tories to ensure they don’t use Brexit as a way of increasing attacks on the majority, continuing austerity, whipping up racist divisions in our community and scapegoating immigrants.”
It is unlikely that those who voted to Remain are in a mood to hear lessons from those who cast their ballots for Leave. That was the act that created the conditions in which these problems were created. From the deep-rooted hegemony of Tory Sovereigntism, to xenophobia, tricking into the left, there’s a lot more to challenge than the “un-elected” (?) Teresa May. “Demanding” may be fine, but having an effect requires a lot more than the politics of demonstrations and mass meetings. And what on earth is this “people” and its “interests”? Perhaps they have passed from the peoples of Europe, to The People..….
Theresa May signals UK on path to ‘ruinous’ hard Brexit Another Europe is Possible.
Migrants not to blame for UK problems. Support the Alliance for Free Movement.
(1) Pages 541, 543. The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Verso 2009.
(2) Pages 533 537. Anderson Op cit.
(3) Page 93 Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. Can Europe be the Same with different People in it? Christopher Caldwell. Allen Lane. 2009. Page 534. Anderson op cit.