Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Brexit – Doing Nothing is Not a Political Strategy – Labour has no Option but to Support a Second Referendum


There is no Lexit - Leaving the EU is a Project of the Right and far-Right
Barring a miracle Theresa May’s deal with Europe, backstop and all, is likely to be rejected by a hefty majority in the Commons tomorrow. It is quite possible that May herself will resign although it is equally possible that she will have to be dragged out of Downing Street kicking and screaming.
Of one thing we can be sure. There is nothing at all progressive or socialist in cutting our ties with the European Union. The problem with the EU is not that it is leading to European integration or the loss of a mythical sovereignty but that capitalism, based as it is on nation states, is incapable of achieving the goal of European integration.
The original 6 members of the EEC
The project for European unity began as a consequence of World War 2 with the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951. A common market in iron and steel was created under the control of a supranational Higher Authority. Iron and steel competition had symbolised the drive to war in previous decades.
At the time the UK, which still had an Empire, refused to join what became the European Common Market. It was only with the humiliation of the Suez War, when the United States forced Britain into retreating that the UK began to orientate to the EEC. As Dean Acheson, Harry Truman’s Secretary of State observed, “Great Britain had lost an Empire and not yet found a role.” It was a way of casting scorn on the special relationship’ with the United States.
Charles de Gaulle - French President
Three times, Britain applied to join the Common Market. The first application, in July 1961 by Harold MacMillan, was vetoed by the French President Charles de Gaulle. The second application in May 1967 under Harold Wilson was also vetoed by de Gaulle. It was only the third application under Ted Heath, by which time de Gaulle was dead, that was successful.
The Labour Party came to power in February 1974, in the wake of the Miners Strike when Ted Heath called a General Election under the banner ‘Who Rules the Country’ – he got a rude shock when the electorate said it wasn’t him! Harold Wilson had held the Labour Party together by promising to renegotiate our terms of entry and then hold a referendum. After gaining minor concessions the referendum in 1975 produced a 2-1 majority in favour of remaining in the EEC.
The left of the Labour Party, Tony Benn, Michael Foot and Barbara Castle joined forces with the Tory Right – people such as Enoch Powell and Teddy Taylor – to campaign on an openly nationalist basis against the EEC. The Out campaign warned that the EEC ‘"sets out by stages to merge Britain with France, Germany, Italy and other countries into a single nation," in which Britain would be a "mere province". What a terrible thing!
The opposition of the Labour Left to the EU has always been a pale reflection of the Right, based on a nostalgia for when Britain was ‘great’.  At a time when MAGA is the slogan of Trump and the alt-Right it should not be difficult to see the parallels.
The 1970’s were a time of unparalleled class struggle, the likes of which we haven’t seen since. In 1972 and 1974 the National Union of Miners went on strike twice and and it brought the government of Ted Heath to its knees. The industrial and political struggle against the Industrial Relations Act led to the defiance and then repeal of the Industrial Relations Act by the dockers in 1972 with the gaoling of the Pentonville 5.  When the TUC called a one-day General Strike the courts, in the form of Lord Denning, caved in.
It was in this context that the Labour left, which had made its peace with Labour’s class collaborationist ‘social contract’ with Capital turned its attention to opposition to Britain’s membership of the EEC. The campaign against the EEC, alongside the Tory Right was politically disastrous and weakened the Left. After the referendum Wilson demoted Tony Benn moving him from his powerful position as Minister of Trade and Industry to Minister of Energy.
In short the Labour Left’s opposition to the EU has been a disastrous capitulation to the forces of nationalism and an abandonment of class struggle politics from its inception. The Labour left took its lead from the Communist Party and its British Road to Socialism which posits the Stalinist idea that you can achieve socialism in one country.
There is nothing progressive or socialist and never has been in opposition to the European Union.
Opposition to the EU has at its heart opposition to the free movement of labour. Capital in today’s world can move wherever it wants but workers are forced to stay where they are and compete against each other. Those who argue that free movement of labour undercuts the wages and conditions of native workers are conceding to the idea that British workers and bosses have more in common than with foreign workers. It is no surprise that it is the same anti-trade union right which employs this same argument as it did against Jewish workers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The socialist argument is quite simple. Organise migrant labour don’t exclude it alongside reactionary and racist Toryism. Class   action and trade union organisation between migrant and indigenous labour is the best way of protecting wages and conditions.
Opposition to the EU is based on the idea that an independent British capitalist state is preferable. It is a harking back to the days of Empire. Only last week Jeremy Hunt visited Singapore saying that after Brexit Britain could adopt the Singaporean model of low taxes. Those who argue for Brexit are playing with fire – they are laying the basis for a low wage, low tax economy in which we effectively undercut wages in Europe.  This is the ‘socialist’ solution of our so-called Left.  Unfortunately Jeremy Corbyn has always been part of this left.
General Election
If and when the Commons rejects Theresa May’s Deal tomorrow, it is essential that Labour does more than call for a General Election. It should take over the campaign for a referendum. The defeat of Brexit at a second referendum would almost guarantee the victory of Labour at a General Election. It would also nip in the bud the moves for some form of national coalition between the Labour Right and Tory anti-Brexiteers.
The argument that a second referendum doesn’t respect the first referendum is barely worth arguing against. People are clearly in possession of more information now about the consequences of Brexit, leaving aside the fraudulent use of money at the last referendum. A strong campaign by Labour can not only overturn the 2016 referendum but it will strike a decisive blow against the far-Right in this country which is riding on the coat tails of Brexit.
A successful rejection of Brexit will provide an unstoppable momentum for a General Election. Far from damaging Labour’s chances the rejection of Brexit would enhance them enormously. It should be able to capture significant territory in the anti-Brexit South, London and the Home Counties. By taking head on the anti-migrant narrative in the North, viz. that deindustrialisation and austerity are the product of the EU rather than the politics of the free market and Austerity, Labour can overcome any Tory campaign. Labour should argue that what motivated people to vote No in 2016 were policies that made the working class pay for the financial crisis of 2008-9, Those who say we should ‘respect’ the first referendum result are really saying they have no confidence in being able to challenge this racist and nationalist narrative.
The 2016 Referendum led to an increase in racist attacks and     xenophobia. It was the far-Right who felt emboldened by the result.  We have seen with James Duggard and his far-Right acolytes last week exactly who stands to benefit from Brexit.
All over Europe the far-Right has grown on the back of a Euro-scepticism allied to anti- refugee feeling. The Brexit vote in the 2016 referendum was a visible sign of that and those who say we should ‘respect’ it are in essence saying that we should not challenge the racist Right any longer.
It is also obvious that the alt-Right and Trump in the United States welcome Brexit as the first instalment in the break up of the European Union. The idea that Britain would become independent is for the birds. It would tie Britain hand and foot to US capitalism.
Socialists should counter the message that Europe is the cause of austerity and unemployment. We should also be clear that we do not accept the neo-liberal policies of Europe and its competition law either but that the place to fight them is inside not outside. We should take our lead from French workers who have been in the forefront of the fight against Macron and his Blairite economic policies. Cutting our ties with Europe is a strange way of building working class alliances with European workers.
Jeremy Corbyn’s strategy of wanting a ‘Jobs First Brexit’ is politically and economically absurd. Brexit has already led to the loss of thousands of jobs and will lead to many more as firms transfer investment to mainland Europe. One may as well talk about a ‘life enhancing suicide’ or a healthy heart attack. It is an oxymoron.
We are entering into the territory of a constitutional crisis with a Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, who is prepared to tear up precedent and existing procedure in order to enable the Commons to override a government that has lost its majority. The Sunday Times at the weekend speculated on a plot to suspend Standing Order 14 which gives precedence to government motions.  If true then the government will have lost control.
Labour has a golden opportunity to use the ruling class crisis over Brexit to its advantage and ride to power in its wake.  The alternative could also be that the Corbyn phenomenon is derailed entirely.
Tony Greenstein

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