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A Critique of Susan Watkins – New Left Review – on “After Brexit”.

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Let Brexit Be Done!

 

“Holloa, my republican friend, d—n it, that’s a nasty lick you’ve got, and from one of people too; that makes it harder to bear, eh? Never mind, he’s worse off than you are.” It was, 1814, the time of the French Restauration. London had been celebrating a visit by His Sacred Majesty, the Bourbon King Louis the 18th. Zachariah Coleman a Dissenter and Radical, had not doffed his cap as the French King appeared. Hit by a burley Drayman’s fist, saved by the intervention of the above Major, the hero of The Revolution in Tanner’s Lane (1887. Mark Rutherford, W.H. White) could stand for the left after the blow of December’s General Election. We are still reeling as the People have cheered, or at least, voted, Boris Johnson into office.

In Britain’s Decade of Crisis, Susan Watkins talks of this present-day “restoration”. “The Tories are back in office with their largest majority since the 1980s, thanks to the long-ignored northern working class”. Like the Bourbons, the PM’s “ traditional ruling-class persona” gave the trappings of “decisiveness, vitality, enjoyment”. Rolling these phrases the Editor of New Left Review sees no cause to revise her judgement on the Leave victory in the 2016 Referendum. “Critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret this knocks against it, against which the whole global order establishment – Obama, Merkel, Modi, Junker, to Xi – has inveigled.” (1)

In another return to the old order New Left Review clutches at Tom Nairn’s portrait of British capitalist development. The “rising bourgeoisie was absorbed into the existing aristocratic state and civil structures”. “The world dominance of the City of London served to divert investment away from the northern industrial regions: higher returns were to be found overseas.” To cut a long, and contentious, story short, the country ended up with this: “While London remained the financial capital of Europe, ‘outward-orientation’ in the era of bubblenomics was above all Atlanticist.”

In other words, leaving the EU was not a knock to the neoliberal global order, or to “southern-based financialised capitalism”. Those gaining from “bubblenomics”, some of the funders of the Leave movement, show that much. The multinational state, Nairn’s bugbear, which he calls by the laborious name of Ukania, may be under strain. Watkins cites the ‘Scottish Rebellion’. She does not mention the sage’s speculation that “the breakup of Britain will be accompanied by the dissolution of its heartland or Southern nationalism into a larger European entity”. (2)

UKIP’s ‘National Independence” movement.

A belated English national independence struggle, led by UKIP, and with wider roots in the Northern Rust Belt, fuelled the demand for Leave. “England without London”, the alliance of the “disaggregated” working and middle classes who backed Leave, the ignored “will of the working class” given voice in Tory support is the result. But like the former mining and industrial districts of Northern France that have turned to Marine Le Pen, this is an alliance of the less-well off with their betters, the traditional reactionary wing of the right. French and British legitimists may add colour to the bloc; former mining families, self-pitying pathos. Racism, xenophobic, the germs of popular base for national populism, could be cited. They are not. One equally suspects that Simon Kuper is onto something when he talks of the “middle class anti-elitist” as the vanguard of Leave support, not the working class and poor ‘left behind’. (3)

Britain’s Decade of Crisis skirts over the movements against austerity that grew after the 2008 Banking crisis and state cuts. The People’s Assembly, run at the top by the small left group, Counterfire, funded by trade unions, such as UNITE, it galvanised and brought together grassroots protests. Prefiguring the election of Jeremy Corbyn, anti-austerity campaigns brought together left activists, local councillors, trade unionists and a big slice of community groups. Many involved joined the Labour Party – actively encouraged by the unions, and the transitional stage of supporters’ membership – under the new leadership. Some saw this as the basis for Labour insurgency, a challenge to “capitalist realism” in civil society. Yet, paradoxically or not, the anti-austerity movement began to fade the moment Jeremy Corbyn was elected and Momentum was floated as the new ‘social movement’. There is little doubt that placards and demos can only go so far when confronted with Council budgets and the Fortress of the DWP. (4)

Labour, Corbyn and the Media.

Watkins jumps to the challenge “from the Labour Left under Jeremy Corbyn: an appeal to redistribute wealth and recast foreign policy, distancing the UK from NATO’s wars.” We learn little about how Labour’s team prepared to turn these policies into a digestible form and the criticisms they faced, up to, and during the election about the unintelligibility and volume, of their plans Indeed the difficulties that the ‘Corbyn project’ faced are externalised.

We hear a lot about how the Parliamentary Party tried to frustrate Corbyn, and a great deal, a very great deal about the media’s hostility to Labour. The “Labour leader came under an unprecedented three-way assault—from the establishment intelligentsia, from his own parliamentary party and from opponents of his anti-war foreign policy.”

Nobody pointed out, that blaming foreign wars, with barely audible qualification, for the Manchester bomb attack – mass murder – was factually and politically doubtful. Nobody questioned Labour’s failure to give more than tepid support for Syrians killed by Baathist, Russian and Iranian forces, or do anything to back the Kurds, to back democrats against Assad, was reflected the ethically bankrupt ‘anti-imperialism’ of key Corbyn advisers. Nobody mentioned it in New Left Review!

Instead the issue of anti-semitism loomed over all others. She concludes“… given the scale and toxicity of the establishment onslaught, besides which the concoction of the Zinoviev Letter in 1924 appears the work of amateurs, the first duty is to salute the moral integrity of Corbyn and his courageous Jewish allies.” This no-holds, no concessions, defence offers little to resolve an over-commented issue. It is hard to credit that Corbyn supporters who reacted with as much vitriol as their critics helped resolve the issue, or that the way some treated the Labour Party as  a place to play out their absolute anti-Zionism, was not the best way to deal with a predictable attack from this quarter, helped. 

“The media’s anti semitism campaign represented a damaging assault on Corbyn’s Labour from above.” Far from the only one, but Watkins is eager to go for the next issue. “Brexit hurt the party from below—dividing it from an important section of its historic voter base.” Again, without surveying the influence of those called the Corridor Cabal, who backed Brexit even more enthusiastically than Watkins, or the turn outs on some of the biggest mass demonstrations ever seen in Britain, for remaining in the EU, she concludes, “ Instead of proposing an alternative solution to the crisis, as in 2017, Labour was the main force blocking the implementation of the popular vote, in a defence of the status quo—aligned with the Supreme Court, the House of Lords, the ‘Remainer elite’.”

Let Brexit be Done!

Any attempt to stop Brexit was not only doomed, it frustrated an alternative. “Corbyn could have avoided this position by giving Labour mps a free vote on Brexit legislation in 2019, ‘according to their conscience’, as Harold Wilson had done on the divisive 1975 referendum on the UK’s entry into the Common Market. With the ‘northern group’ voting for the bill and two dozen Labour abstentions, Johnson would have been denied the chance to make electoral hay out of the obstruction of Brexit, and the prospect of combating a much weaker Tory administration would have lain ahead at the next election.”

In other words, Labour should have let Brexit pass. The Northern patriots would have been appeased, Johnson, his key policy given the green light, his own remain opponents tossed aside, and pro-EU protesters rattled, would be in a mess. Or “much weaker”.

With the blessing of hindsight  Zachariah Coleman should have tipped his hat to the Bourbon King.

Having cheered him on his way, the Dissenter would only have to wait till 1830 to see the elite gone, and a fine musical, Les Misérables, written to celebrate it.

What now for Labour and the Left. Momentum, according to some reports, has frazzled out. Long-Bailey looks unlikely to hold the Corbyn candle. The pro-Corbyn left is fragmenting.  “The new left keeps open the prospect of taking the fight to the terrain of the future with bold solutions for inequality, climate change and the international order, as the Corbyn leadership tried to do” states Susan Watkins towards the conclusion of the New Left Review Editorial. This looks like a rerun of the alter-globalisation folk politics of the past, without any prospect of power.

What constituencies should the new left and Labour address? Reworking the themes of the Somewhere and Nowhere people, the Metropolitan and the Periphery, the political and electoral cartography stands as this: For Paul Mason, the progressive alliance of the future lies squarely with the ‘internationals’, the young metropolitan professionals of the Remain camp. For Wolfgang Streeck, the national level offers the only effective basis for democratic accountability, for calling the ravening forces of capital to order.” Paul Mason, internationalist, opponent of right-wing populism and “national neoliberalism”. Wolfgang Streeck, star writer for New Left Review, member of the alliance between left sovereigntists and Brexit Party supporters, the Full Brexit, the man who thinks national borders are the “last line of defence”…. The Editor leaves little doubt about where her support goes….(5)

*****

  1. Susan Watkins. Casting off? Editorial. NLR No 100. 2016.
  2. Page 391. The Enchanted Glass. Britain and its Monarchy. Tom Nairn. Radius 1988.
  3. Simon Kuper. The revenge of the middle-class anti-elitist. Financial Times. Feb 13th. 2010. Most British Leave voters lived in the south of England, and 59 per cent were middle class (social classes A, B or C1), writes Danny Dorling, geographer at Oxford University.
  4. Exiting the Vampire Castle. Mark Fisher. 2013. “One of the things that broke me out of this depressive stupor was going to the People’s Assembly in Ipswich, near where I live. The People’s Assembly had been greeted with the usual sneers and snarks. This was, we were told, a useless stunt, in which media leftists, including Jones, were aggrandising themselves in yet another display of top-down celebrity culture. What actually happened at the Assembly in Ipswich was very different to this caricature. The first half of the evening – culminating in a rousing speech by Owen Jones – was certainly led by the top-table speakers. But the second half of the meeting saw working class activists from all over Suffolk talking to each other, supporting one another, sharing experiences and strategies. Far from being another example of hierarchical leftism, the People’s Assembly was an example of how the vertical can be combined with the horizontal: media power and charisma could draw people who hadn’t previously been to a political meeting into the room, where they could talk and strategise with seasoned activists. The atmosphere was anti-racist and anti-sexist, but refreshingly free of the paralysing feeling of guilt and suspicion which hangs over left-wing twitter like an acrid, stifling fog.
  5. From the Demise of Social Democracy to the ‘End of Capitalism’: The Intellectual Trajectory of Wolfgang Streeck. Jerome Roos. 2019 HISTORICAL MATERIALISM 27(2): 248-288

As an example of how the pro-Corbyn left is splintering this could not be better:

 

Here

The Brexit Left Hails, “the positive potential of a departure from the EU.”

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Daily Express 1 February 2020

Morning Star Sees “Positive Potential” in Brexit.

The Morning Star, wholly independent of the Communist Party of Britain and owned by the Co-Op, this week hailed the “positive potential” of Brexit Day.

Editorial.

The Morning Star claims that Labour ‘handed control’ of the Brexit process ” to enemies of the working class in Westminster and Brussels” by inflicting “defeats on the government”.

In the New Era,

Now Brexit is happening, Labour urgently needs to do what it should have done in 2016, the essence of which was actually outlined by Corbyn in 2018: to recognise the positive potential of a departure from the EU.

These include expanding public ownership without worrying about the strictures of the Lisbon Treaty, or the “rights” of parasitical firms exploiting our public services for profit; to plan economic development sustainably, intervening to clean and green our economy without allowing transnational companies a “fair playing field” on which to ruin our planet; rewriting public procurement rules so contracts are allocated based on public interest and the welfare of workers and users.

For the moment, none of this is on the table. Brexit is an opportunity, because it removes certain treaties and regulations which are barriers to a socialist transformation of society.

But every silver-lined opportunity has a cloud,

But it is no more than an opportunity. It has not liberated anyone. Britain has elected a hard-right government which is already breaking promises to end austerity and will wage ruthless war on our communities and our workforces. It is a pro-imperialist government aligned as slavishly to an aggressive White House as was Tony Blair’s.

Some on the left will blame all this on Brexit. Actually it marks a continuation of the policies of the past four decades rather than a departure from them. Labour can keep mourning the EU, keep pleading for total alignment with all its anti-worker treaties and court rulings, keep reproaching people for failing to understand what we could lose rather than inspiring them with a vision of what we can win.

Or it can move on.

And agree with the pro-Leave Morning Star.

By accepting the Boris consensus on Brexit we can finally, by leaps and bounds, engage in the real struggle. That is,

 it accepts we have left and throws itself into the fight for a better future.

Another editorial blames faith in the EU for a downturn in workers’ struggles,

A misplaced faith in the EU to protect workers’ rights has seen energies misdirected into lobbying on behalf of the supranational organisation rather than building a movement formidable enough to defend and extend rights.

The EU has prevented Britain from defending the national working class.

In fact EU rules have acted to prevent governments keeping manufacturing and construction contracts in the country to protect jobs.

The same applies to workers’ rights. Trade unions in particular have been systematically stripped of their rights over the past 40 years.

The national working class can only look to national struggles to fight for its rights.

One welcome result of Britain’s departure should therefore be abandoning the myth — laughable given the momentous struggle against attacks on pension rights currently raging in France — that the labour movement can look to the EU for protection. Workers’ rights can only be secured by the working class itself.

Only working-class action can defend workers’ rights

You wonder why the labour movement bothers with any legislation or tries to get MPs elected.

Perhaps the Morning Star will extend the CPB’s call to Boycott Labour and abstain in last year’s European Elections to the next British General Election.

Counterfire, meanwhile has held its conference.

Corbynism, socialists and the resistance – Counterfire’s conference

The revolutionary socialist organisation resolved to back Rebecca Long-Bailey in the Labour leadership contest.

In prose which only they have the secret of the groupuscule declares,

Counterfire is a revolutionary socialist organisation that differs with those in Labour about whether the party can be won to socialism and whether socialism can be attained through Parliament. Nevertheless, we were at the forefront of defending and encouraging the Corbyn project, while being fraternally critical when neccessary (sic).

They instruct,

Socialists in Labour should vote for Rebecca Long-Bailey and Richard Burgon in the current elections, it will be a boost to the entire left if left-wing candidates win the leadership and deputy leadership of the Labour Party. But the loss of the election has strengthened the right and Corbyn’s resignation is likely to lead to retreats, particularly on foreign policy issues. Increasingly the focus for socialists ought to be outside electoral politics.

On Brexit they declare,

That Brexit still represents an opportunity for rupture with Europe’s capitalist institutions and only makes sense from the left. There is no better deal for capital than the one it currently has.

Conference resolves:

In the context of the end of Corbynism and the inevitable moving rightwards of the Labour Party, to continue making the arguments within the left that making a break with the institutions of the EU is a necessary step on the road to socialism.

Agreeing with their national comrades in the Morning Star Martin Hall writes on Brexit Day that  “future is up for grabs”, to catch it the left must,

Understand that a rupture with the current model of capitalism in order to rebalance capital and labour in favour of the latter can only be achieved outside the EU.

Leaving the EU: this is about what sort of society we want – and it isn’t Johnson’s

Try wishing away this:

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Red-Brown Spiked Urges Vote for Brexit – Brexit Party or Tory.

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Related image

Red-Brown Front Now Under Strain.

Spare a thought for the Red-Brown Front.

Only last week they were huffing and puffing in support of the Brexit Party as the vehicle that would “change politics for good”.

The Full Brexit  brings together leading figures of the Communist Party of Britain, Stefan Cholewka (Lambertist, International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples) the Brexit Party’s Spiked/RCP network, including at least one Brexit Party candidate, James ‘Heartfield’) Anti-rootless Cosmopolitan Campaigner Paul Embery, ‘Funny-Money’ Thomas Fazi, the Socialist Labour Party, Blue Labour, Labour Leave, ‘leftists’ like  Costas Lapavitsas, New Left Review Stalwart, Prof Wolfgang Streeck, and assorted oddballs, such as Larry O’Nutter (better known under his pen name of Larry O’Hara). (From list of the Founding Statement).

Only last week they posted this anti-Labour rant on their Blog.

A “final say” referendum on Brexit will not only be the end of any final say on anything in British politics, it will also usher in a new dark age for democracy around the world.

Now they are shown up as patsies for Farage’s scheme to wheedle the Tories into power under the patronage of Donald Trump.

Leader’s decision to not contest Tory-held seats upsets some candidates who planned to stand.

Nigel Farage’s decision to unilaterally stand down more than half the Brexit party’s candidates has prompted fury from some of the hopefuls, with one candidate saying he only learned the news when a passing driver asked him why he was still campaigning.

Darren Selkus, who was the candidate for Epping Forest, said Farage had “betrayed my incredible volunteers and thousands of constituents who will have no one to vote for” by pulling out of all 317 Conservative-held seats.

Arron Banks, a generous figure who’s donated shed-loads of  money over the years,  to anti-Brexit causes from the campaign to Trades Unionists Against the EU, now says, (ES)

Nigel Farage has been warned he has just 48 hours to “save Brexit” by his long-time ally and millionaire backer Arron Banks.

Mr Banks urged the Brexit Party leader to pull candidates in marginal seats he “can’t win” and go for the “40 or so Labour seats where the Tories haven’t got a hope”.

His warning comes after Mr Farage earlier this week staged a climbdown from his vow to fight 600 seats in the general election by promising to give 317 sitting Conservative MPs a free ride. But Mr Farage was told to “go further”.

Mr Banks said: “There are 48 hours to save Brexit and save the country from a Corbyn government… Nigel has remade the Conservative Party in his own image, the Conservative Party is the Brexit Party.”

The Spiked – former Revolutionary Communist Party – gang  are putting a brave face on their role in backing the Tories through support for the Brexit Party.

Fox is not shy of offering advice:

As national populists warm to Boris Johnson the line is changing.

Spiked goes Tory:

A slap in the face of Leave voters

JOANNA WILLIAMS Associate Editor Spiked.

The Brexit Party offered Brexit voters a choice. Now that choice has been taken away.

With hindsight, perhaps the Brexit Party should have campaigned more for democratic reform and proportional representation, two of its more interesting proposals, rather than the abolition of inheritance tax and free WiFi on buses.

….

Voting Conservative will strike a blow against the Remainers; voting for the Brexit Party will let me express my concern about Boris’s deal. I am slowly coming to terms with the prospect of voting Conservative. What’s important is that having this choice makes a decision not just possible, but meaningful.

Brendan O’Neill writes,

The Brexit Party steps aside

In spiked’s view, the aim of voters who care about democracy, who care deeply about that hard-won liberty that gives ordinary people power and influence over our rulers, should be to give a thoroughly bloody nose to the Remainer elites who have spent three-and-a-half years defying the people’s will and insulting the largest electoral bloc in British history.

The Great Man seems to wriggle around the possibility that the Tories might give the Brexit Party a free run for services rendered..

One question is whether the Tories will reciprocate and withdraw candidates from Labour seats where the BP has a good chance of picking up votes. There are reports of a non-aggression pact between the BP and the Tories in these areas. But if the Tories are serious about Brexit, they will stand back and give free rein to a BP candidate against Labour, which, let us not forget, is promising to void the referendum result by forcing us to vote again. (However, if the Labour candidate is Eurosceptic, like Dennis Skinner, or a pro-democracy Remainer, like Caroline Flint, then voting for those candidates is preferable to voting for the BP candidate.)

Keeping the morale of the troops high, he  concludes,

 Let’s teach the Remainer elite a lesson. And after the election, let’s teach the supposed Brexit-supporting political class a lesson, too.

With the Brexit Company standing at 8% in the polls their hopes must be pinned on Boris Johnson.

Today on Spiked, former Revolutionary Communist activist Phil Mullan advises them, and Labour,

The parties need to stop squabbling over spending and get back to Brexit.

Others still see Farage as a threat: