Why Corbyn supporters should join Socialist Alternative
May 4, 2020
Keir Starmer’s victory – achieved, in part, by him adopting a left pose to appeal to a layer of Corbyn supporters – has been swiftly followed by a series of dramatic and deeply revealing events.
First came his victory speech, in which he indicated that Labour under his leadership would essentially act as a loyal shield for Johnson’s government during the Covid-19 crisis. Among his first promises as leader was a pledge to ‘work with the Tories’, despite their dramatic and deadly failings on testing, PPE, NHS cuts and so on.
Next came the exposure of the leaked Labour report, which dramatically revealed the real role of the party’s Blairite right. At the party’s highest levels, high-paid top officials worked hand-in-hand with the then general secretary Ian McNicol to actively and consistently sabotage the possibility of a Labour victory under Corbyn’s leadership. They celebrated setbacks and mourned advances. And not only that, they did so within a rotten context of what appears to have been a culture of racism and abuse.
Scandalously, the report also exposes the right’s role in what seems like the deliberate frustrating of investigations into alleged anti-semitism, all with the aim of weaponising the issue against the leadership.
Last came the much-anticipated publication of Starmer’s list of financial backers. This ties everything together. It demonstrates absolutely that his most fundamental commitments are to this same Blairite right that worked consistently to undermine the possibility of an anti-austerity Labour government for the last five years. He shares with Liz Kendall, the ultra-Blairite’s ‘candidate of the 4%’, his most generous financial backers.
No wonder then, that the shadow cabinet has been stuffed with right-wing relics. At a time of mass lay-offs Starmer hands top jobs to the likes of Rachel Reeves – most well known for her infamous pronouncement that ‘Labour is not the party for those who are out of work’. Blair’s big buddy Charles Falconer is also back from the dead. He is most well-known for his attempts to ‘legalise’ the disastrous Iraq war. Starmer stood to reverse Corbynism. To turn Labour into a reliable ‘second eleven’ for the capitalist class. This is now crystal clear to thousands.
So the question posed is what next? What should those who support Corbyn’s anti-austerity anti-war stand do now?
Socialist Alternative argues that the most basic answer to this question is that we must organise. What’s more, we say that working-class people must organise independently. Attempts to appease and placate the right have only strengthened them. No such ‘generosity’ will ever be shown in return. Indeed, Starmer’s initial response to the leaked report shows a willingness to perversely use this issue to carry out a renewed witch-hunt against the left, with his ‘independent’ investigation essentially tasked with targeting the whistleblowers.
So working-class people, trade unionists, socialists and anti-cuts fighters need to be organised around a political programme that represents the interests of our class. That means fighting for socialism. And it requires us to unite both those still remaining in Labour who are seeking to fight the right there and, crucially, the thousands who have already torn up their cards in disgust, not to mention the millions more who had not been mobilised by Corbynism, but who can be won to socialist ideas.
Our first task is to organise a mass struggle against the Tory government and its disastrous handling of the Covid crisis. That means stepping up the fight now for PPE and testing to protect frontline workers, as well as organising to fight lay-offs and prevent workers being forced back before it is safe. But once the lockdown finishes, there will be even more scope to mobilise mass struggle – perhaps starting with an almighty demonstration to fight for our NHS – demanding an end to more than a decade of cuts and privatisation which paved the way for this crisis. At the same time, as the global economic depression we are at the beginning of deepens, the question of who is asked to pay for the crisis will come to the fore. We must demand that it is those responsible for the disaster that foot the bill – the capitalist class – not ordinary people.
But we also need to fight for such struggles to have a political voice. Socialist ideas – of public ownership of the major banks and monopolies and democratic planning of the economy to meet people’s needs without destroying the planet – can articulate the demands of working-class people and point towards the transformation of society that is necessary.
There should be no fetish made of the exact organisational form political representation for workers takes. It is right to continue to demand mandatory reselection of Labour MPs for example, and to fight to push back against the right as they attempt to reassert control at every level. But it would be wrong to argue that Labour is the only vehicle through which political representation can be achieved. Nor would it be right for those on the left to commit to loyal opposition to Starmer’s new right-wing leadership, potentially over a period of years. Political representation for working-class people is an urgent necessity, not a distant aspiration.
New parties and formations can also emerge in the next period – perhaps coming out of the struggles that will inevitably develop in response to this crisis and perhaps building upon the core of people previously mobilised around Corbyn. But crucial in the ultimate success of any such venture will be that it is built around a clear set of socialist ideas.
Socialist Alternative is appealing to Corbyn supporters to join us in the wake of Starmer’s victory. Because we believe that crucial is the building up of a core of people who understand the necessity of breaking with the broken and crisis-ridden capitalist system and the transformation of society along socialist lines. We are not what you would call a ‘rival’ or ‘alternative’ party to Labour in that sense. Rather, we represent a strand of thought which has been part of the workers’ movement throughout its history.
Our starting point is that there can be no ‘unity of interests’ between working-class people and the capitalists whose profits come from the exploitation of labour. We therefore do not simply stand to reform capitalism in an attempt to make it ‘kinder’ or ‘fairer’. Instead, while we fight for and in defence of every improvement that workers can achieve, we understand that, under this rotten system, what we gain can always come under attack and be taken away at a later stage.
So as well as playing our part in building for mass struggle to defend working-class people, we always seek to put forward what is necessary to win real and lasting change – to point in the direction of socialism and build around these ideas.
To that end, we want to build an organisation made up of the best and the most audacious campaigners and working-class fighters. We want to build a genuinely democratic organisation, so that the best insights of those from all walks of life can be brought together to help us formulate our demands and ideas in a way that speaks to working-class people and points a way forward. We want to build an organisation that learns from history and which draws on the experiences of all those who have gone before us in the fight against capitalism. And we want to build an organisation that can ultimately play a decisive role in bringing about the transformation of society along socialist lines – both in Britain and internationally.
We are proud to be part of a global organisation – International Socialist Alternative – which is building around these ideas in over 30 countries worldwide. We base ourselves on revolutionary Marxist ideas.
So if you agree with us, and want to be part of building Socialist Alternative, we urge you to join us. If you’re not sure yet, but you want to find out more and discuss, we urge you to get in touch. Because now is the time to step up the fight for a socialist world.
Labour leaked report reveals breathtaking Blairite sabotage – organise to fight the right!
April 15, 2020
Poisonous, vindictive, laced with racist undertones, and breath-taking in their contempt for all those fighting to elect a Labour government with an anti-austerity programme. These descriptions perhaps go some way towards summarising the contents of the leaked conversations, held between senior Labour officials between 2015 and 2018, which are contained within the 850-page-long report that was sent to the press over the Easter weekend.
In many senses, this report’s findings vindicate Jeremy Corbyn and his team. They show that the real obstacles preventing the speedy processing of cases of alleged antisemitism were in fact created by right-wing officials who were determined to weaponise the issue against the leadership. They detail how cases were deliberately leaked to the press by Blairite staffers before they were passed on to the people responsible for investigating them. For reasons which are currently obscure, but which apparently pertain to legal advice, it seems this report has not been officially submitted to the EHRC inquiry being conducted into the supposedly widespread problem of antisemitism in Labour. But it nonetheless exposes the pernicious nature of the campaign that has been waged against Corbyn on this issue.
Beyond the issue of antisemitism, the report reveals the incredible extent of the sabotage these handsomely paid senior staffers were engaged in, working hand in hand with the then Blairite general secretary of the party – Iain McNichol – to actively undermine Labour’s chances of winning in 2017. This even went so far as siphoning party funds away from winnable marginals and towards seats held by Blairite MPs whom the right deemed it necessary to ‘protect at all costs’. One leaked WhatsApp conversation includes senior officials, along with McNichol, discussing ‘throwing 50K’ at Tom Watson’s seat for example.
Not only were these funds coming from Labour Party members and trade unionists who overwhelmingly supported Jeremy Corbyn but, given the marginal nature of the 2017 result, it is possible that these underhand manoeuvres played a decisive part in denying Labour the victory.
Meanwhile, the cruel, bullying and arguably at times racist language that was used in many of these leaked threads further reveals the thoroughly rotten character of the individuals involved. Corbyn allies such as Diane Abbott, as well as young Corbyn-supporting members, seem to have been singled out for particularly unpleasant forms of abuse. None of the officials named in this report, some of whom continue to hold senior positions in trade unions, should have any place in the workers’ movement now or in the future.
Correctly, thousands are already demanding the immediate expulsion of all those who are revealed as having actively worked against a Labour victory. With the report yet to be published in full, it’s possible further revelations will take place in the coming days.
But as well as vindicating Corbyn in a whole number of ways, what this report also dramatically clarifies is the utter folly of the approach adopted by him and his senior leadership team of seeking ‘unity’ with the party’s right instead of mobilising against them. This is the strategy that ultimately cost Corbyn the opportunity to be Prime Minister. It meant squandering the potential power of the active and extremely loyal base of support which existed for socialist policies – a base which numbered hundreds of thousands at its height.
Ultimately the Blairites’ prime loyalty has always been to the class they represent: the capitalists. Only an approach which was sufficiently fierce in its own class loyalty – to working people – would have been sufficient to counter their offensive and defeat them. This would have meant mobilising the huge numbers of Corbyn supporters against the pro-capitalist right, fighting for democratic mandatory reselection of MPs, and organising around a clear socialist programme.
The failure to do this left Corbyn looking weak in the face of the persistent and utterly unscrupulous attempts to undermine him. What’s more, the concessions made to the Blairites, especially around the issue of Brexit, contributed to the growing disorientation and confusion that set in around that issue among workers and young people. In other words, attempts to bring on board and placate the pro-capitalist right came at the cost of undermining the most crucial unity socialists must seek to build: that of working-class people.
All this has paved the way for Keir Starmer’s victory in the recent leadership election. Despite having donned the clothes of the left in order to win support from a layer of former Corbyn supporters, Starmer’s reaction to this leaked report is an important signal as to the real character of his leadership. The independent inquiry he has called following the document being leaked (it is reported he had access to the file from the day he was elected to the leadership) appears to be primarily aimed at investigating the report’s authors and the whistleblowers. Such an inquiry will in no way be ‘independent’. In fact, it is more likely to attempt to whitewash the despicable actions of the Blairites.
There was never any basis for unity with Labour’s right. The Blairites represent class interests which are fundamentally opposed to those of workers. Starmer’s victory in the leadership election means that the Ian McNichols of this world now feel Labour is once again going back to being ‘their party’. Appeals by leading so-called Corbynites, such as Owen Jones, for people to ‘get behind Starmer’ will only strengthen that.
Mass struggle needed
Crucial now, is that a mass struggle is built to fight for consistent political representation for working-class people. To do so effectively, such a movement needs to abandon any notion of this being possible on the basis of compromise or unity with the right wing of the Labour Party. . Workers need their own independent political representation. Those who have already been politically activated by Corbynism can form an important basis for this. But to succeed it must go beyond this, drawing in workers, young people and trade unionists, and organising around socialist ideas. And if wresting control of Labour’s leadership and machinery back from the hands of the right proves impossible, it will become necessary for such a movement to find its expression through a new party or formation.
The multiple capitalist crises our world currently faces – from the coronavirus, to the collapsing economy, to the climate catastrophe – show that we do not have unlimited time to build a movement to change the world. The experience of Corbynism should stand as a warning as to the dangers of attempting to do so without being prepared to break with the representatives of the sick system of capitalism. And these lessons must now be absorbed, lest they be repeated.
If you agree, we urge you to join Socialist Alternative today.
No unity with the Blairites.
Mandatory reselection of MPs now. We need socialist representatives on workers’ wages.
We need a fully democratic labour and trade union movement, armed with Socialist policies to fight capitalism
The final push: Corbyn must go all-out to win
December 9, 2019
The final countdown has begun. With less than a week left of election campaigning, Corbyn and Johnson took part in the final televised head-to-head on 6 December. The debate revealed a contrast that could barely be clearer.
In some ways, Johnson’s posh-boy debating society demeanour illustrated his contempt for working-class people even more clearly than what he actually said. A relentless repetition of the actually vacuous phrase “get Brexit done” – tortuously shoehorned into just about every answer he gave – substituted for any real engagement with the issues being raised by the audience: the NHS, austerity, racism and so on.
Corbyn, on the other hand, while not one of the slick public school performers who have dominated the mainstream capitalist parties for decades, spoke with authenticity and determination. Despite constant interruption and the former chair of the young Conservatives as the typically unfair and biased BBC interviewer, his main message – offering an alternative to austerity and hope of a better future – will have shone through for many of those watching. Unsurprisingly, polls showed viewers overwhelmingly considered that Corbyn came across as more ‘in touch’ with ordinary people than Johnson.
But despite his reasonably strong performance in this and other debates, there is still an uphill battle to see Corbyn elected prime minister in the coming week. The effects of the mistaken approach of the Labour leadership, as well as that of Momentum, have taken their toll during this campaign. What’s more, whatever the outcome of this election, unless there is a dramatic change in approach, they threaten to continue to do so in its aftermath.
Corbyn’s first retreat was made as far back as 2015. Under pressure from the Blairite right, whose aim from day one was to prevent Corbyn from ever seeing the inside of Number Ten, he abandoned his historic position of opposition to the EU as a capitalist club – the natural conclusion of which would have been to head an internationalist, anti-racist leave campaign, posing the need for a socialist Europe.
The result of this mistaken approach was to allow Johnson and Farage to cynically position themselves as the anti-establishment insurgents, despite their own exceptional wealth and privilege. The challenge posed by this approach has become especially apparent in the north of England, where Labour is fighting to maintain votes in areas where a majority voted leave.
Ever since 2015, in a hopeless attempt to appease Labour’s right, one concession after another has been made to their demands. At every stage, retreats by Corbyn have only emboldened his opponents. One Blairite MP, whom Corbyn even gave a position in the shadow cabinet, is now standing as a Lib-Dem candidate against Labour.
Many more Labour right-wingers, including those remaining in the party, are engaged in open sabotage. Many are working hand in hand with the rabid, right-wing billionaire press, aiming to slander and undermine Corbyn as an anti-semite, despite his consistent record of opposition to racism in all forms. This is despite the fact that Corbyn’s opponent, Boris Johnson, built his journalistic career on base, dog-whistle bigotry.
The scandalous role played by the state broadcaster, the BBC, will also have been noted, especially by the thousands of workers and young people who have been active participants in the Labour campaign. Systematic negative coverage of Labour’s campaign, with Tory party spin angles making their way into BBC headlines, have exposed the role of this institution in protecting the interests of the capitalist class.
But despite all of these tremendous challenges, Corbyn could still win this Thursday. To do so he needs to go all out. He needs to unapologetically call-out the pernicious intervention of the billionaire class, particularly via the media, in seeking to undermine the prospects of an anti-austerity, pro-working-class government being election. He needs to call mass rallies, in marginal seats, building on the momentum which has already been generated to put thousands on the streets to kick the Tories out.
Corbyn needs to adopt a combative stance when asked about the future. Whatever the outcome on Thursday, the battle will not be over. Should Labour emerge as the largest party in a hung parliament, Corbyn will face immediate pressure to water down parts of his programme in order to ‘get on board’ pro-capitalist parties to allow him to form a government. He should resist such pressures, instead daring those who have claimed to oppose cuts in this election campaign to vote against an anti-austerity budget which he proposes.
Should he form a government, these pressures would only be the beginning. The vicious anti-Corbyn campaign we have witnessed in the last month would not only continue, it would intensify. That’s why mobilising working-class people is so essential. Corbyn will find no friends in the capitalist press whether right-wing or liberal. He will likely face economic sabotage by the rich – with capital flight threatened, closures posed, and demands for him to drop his plans for nationalisation and increased taxes on the rich.
The only force upon who Corbyn can rely is that of workers and young people – a mobilised and active working class. Corbyn must use the last days of this campaign to prepare this force for what is coming – win or lose. Because either outcome should signal the start of a major, mass mobilisation. A mobilisation to end austerity, to defend precious public services like our NHS, and to end the rule of the billionaire class.
Only a socialist society – one based on public ownership of the major monopolies and a democratic plan of production – can offer a bright future for working-class people and our planet. This is the message of hope which Corbyn must champion.
Issue 2 feature: Brexit – what do socialists say?
October 1, 2019
Three years on from the referendum on EU membership, Britain’s Brexit crisis has reached a dramatic climax. The issue has dominated the political landscape since as far back as 2015. As time has gone on, and as the crisis has deepened, the question has become ever more all-consuming. It has claimed the careers of two Tory prime ministers. It has broken apart the Conservative Party. It has been a perennial headache for Jeremy Corbyn and a point of attack for the Blairites.
Asav / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
But despite thousands of column inches, hundreds of television debates and hours upon hours of parliamentary wrangling, the ‘fog’ that has surrounded Brexit has only thickened. In this article, we aim to assist in lifting that fog. By posing some of the more fundamental questions which lie underneath the crisis, and by challenging the dominant media narrative – which ultimately views this crisis through the eyes of the rich – in this article we hope to provide some clarity on the question of Brexit, and to point towards a socialist approach on this most thorny of issues.
1. What is the European Union?
“It’s your job, the job of business, to gear yourselves up to take the opportunities which a single market of nearly 320 million people will offer. Just think for a moment what a prospect that is. A single market without barriers – visible or invisible – giving you direct and unhindered access to the purchasing power of over 300 million of the world’s wealthiest and most prosperous people.”
This quote, from a speech delivered by Margaret Thatcher, articulates the enthusiasm with which the ruling class greeted the foundation of the EU’s Single Market. It summarises the real purpose of the project we call the European Union.
One of the most fundamental questions that has been posed by this crisis, but which has rarely been addressed in the political mainstream, is this seemingly basic one. It’s the question of what the EU is – of who it’s for.
How people perceive the answer can have an important bearing on how they voted in the referendum, and on how they view the current criss. What’s more, the lack of clarity, especially from the workers’ movement, on what the answer to this question actually is, has contributed to the huge confusion which exists within society on the issue.
What we have seen develop, both in the run-up to the referendum, but perhaps especially in its aftermath, is huge polarisation. In many ways this is a false polarisation. That’s because it’s not a polarisation which sits along clear class lines. It doesn’t straightforwardly reflect the real and most important division which exists within our society – the division between the interests of the capitalist class – the rich 0.1% – and the working class.
This false polarisation has at its root the failure of the labour movement’s leadership. In particular, this is a failure of both the trade unions and Jeremy Corbyn to offer a clear, independent, pro-working-class approach to both to the referendum itself and what has followed.
Many workers who voted Remain did so out of a sense that the EU represents an antidote to xenophobic Little Englander-ism. Others did so based on the conviction that the EU protects workers’ rights – a notion encouraged by many trade union leaders in the run up to the vote.
At the same time, the dominant mainstream voices supporting Brexit have emphasised the question of immigration. The official campaigns – both for Leave and Remain – were shot through with anti-migrant and sometimes openly racist rhetoric. Rightly, thousands of workers, and especially a majority of young people, were repulsed by this.
But what is the reality? How do socialists understand the EU? And how should that inform our approach to the Brexit crisis as it continues to unfold?
Fundamentally, the EU represents the institutionalisation of a series of treaties and agreements which have been entered into by the capitalist governments of its 28 member states.
As the Thatcher quote indicates, the ultimate aim of these treaties is to create the maximum-sized market for European multinationals. And within that market, to create a ‘level playing-field’ for big business.
This means creating certain common standards and regulations. Occasionally, as with regulations limiting the supply of poor-quality chlorinated chicken, for example, these can have some benefit to the majority of ordinary people. But far more often, and more importantly, the overall effect of these agreements is to undermine workers’ rights. In particular, they tend to create a race-to-the-bottom in wages and conditions – a ‘levelling down’ for workers. One example of how this is implemented is that of the posted workers’ directive. This is a policy which allows companies to employ migrant workers based on the terms and conditions they would receive in their home countries, giving the green light to employers to ignore existing trade union agreements and pay far below the rate for the job. This encourages not only the super-exploitation of migrant workers, but also the undercutting of the terms and conditions of their non-migrant brothers and sisters.
And this anti-worker approach extends further into the sphere of politics. In reality, a condition for membership of the existing EU Single Market, as well as of the Eurozone, is preparedness to implement neo-liberal economic policies.
If you look further into the Thatcher speech quoted above, she describes the way in which she believes the Single Market will ensure that big business is allowed to bid for contracts when privatised public services are put out for tender – how all companies across Europe must be given the opportunity to carve up the proceeds of privatisation. EU competition and state aid laws create an obstacle to the implementation of socialist policies such as the renationalisation of the privatised utilities and railways. They present a barrier to a left government intervening to save jobs – for example in threatened industries such as steel and car-manufacturing.
In other words, these laws, unless they were consciously defied by a left-led government, would restrict the implementation of pro-working-class policies. And what’s more, the EU is a deeply undemocratic institution. There is a thin democratic veneer represented by the European Parliament. But even this has no power to propose new laws – only to approve or amend them. The real power in the EU lies with the European Commission – a committee of appointed bureaucrats who essentially call the shots.
What is the EU? Ultimately, it’s a capitalist club. It’s designed to protect the interests of bankers, big business and the rich across Europe. It’s Thatcherism on a continental scale.
2. What did the Leave vote represent?
What took place in June 2016 was an earthquake in British politics. The result was unexpected. It defied the polls and confounded the supposed experts. It symbolised the extent to which the British capitalist class was losing control of the situation. Their failure to predict the outcome was matched by an inability to understand it once it was fact. But the truth is, in a confused and inchoate way, that the Leave vote represented a revolt by primarily working-class voters. It was a revolt against a capitalist establishment responsible for a decade of austerity, for the decimation of communities wrought by de-industrialisation, for wrecked public services, privatisation, slashed benefits and food-bank Britain.
The most important factor determining how likely someone was to vote Leave in the referendum was class. Almost two thirds of low-paid workers – classified as ‘C2DE’ in surveys – did so. And while it would be wrong to minimise the reality of racism as a factor in the referendum – something present on both sides of the debate and consciously stirred up by pro-capitalist politicians – it would not be correct to characterise this as the primary cause of the Leave vote. When surveyed about their reasons for voting the way they did, only a third of Leave voters cited the issue of immigration as their main reason for doing so. By far the most common factor referred to – the reason given by almost 50% – was the issue of democratic control, the desire for a proper say over the decisions that affect our lives. What is this, if not an acknowledgement that the society we live in is ‘rigged’ in favour of the super-wealthy – that working class people lack a genuine voice in the way our society is run? Surely underlying this sentiment, even if it is not always clearly articulated, is an understanding that the European Union plays its part in the ‘rigging’ that is inherent in capitalism – that it is part and parcel of this establishment.
In other words, the Leave vote in reality represented an expression of raw class anger. And it has shaken British capitalism to the core.
3. So do socialists think Brexit is a good thing?
The Leave vote represented a revolt by working-class people. It dealt a major blow to the capitalist class. It forced the resignation of the austerity-monger David Cameron and plunged the Tory party into an historic and potentially terminal crisis.
All crises for the ruling class present opportunities for the workers’ movement to make advances. But advances are never guaranteed.
Crucial in answering the question of whether leaving the European Union might be a ‘good thing’ for working-class people, is asking: leaving in what way? On what basis?
One thing that is clear is that any form of Tory Brexit, whether with a deal or without one, will not improve workers’ lives one jot. Both of the Tory party’s warring and increasingly separated wings – the ‘sensible’ capitalist wing represented by May and the right-populist wing represented by Johnson – have one thing in common: both are united in wanting a continuation of cuts, privatisation and wage restraint. Any successful deal struck by the Tories with the European Union will inevitably involve Britain continuing to implement most of the neo-liberal agreements that characterise the Single Market and the Customs Union.
And while the European negotiators would ultimately prefer a deal – an outcome which is preferable from the point of view of European big business – they have no incentive to give Britain an easy ride, let alone to agree to some form of ‘pick and mix’ Boris Brexit. Doing so would only feed the centrifugal forces already threatening to pull the EU apart. It would encourage the growing anti-EU mood that exists in Italy, France and elsewhere. Meanwhile, a no-deal outcome has the potential to significantly bring on the already developing downturn.
While the stories hitting headlines threatening economic Armageddon in the event of a no-deal Brexit do contain a large element of ‘project fear’, they are not purely based on fantasy. The truth is, the threat posed by such an outcome is real. Even a two minute delay at the port of Dover, something which could easily be caused by the necessary new customs checks, would be likely to result in a queue stretching back for more than seventeen miles!
The potential for capitalists to carry out closures and job losses based on the frustration of supply chains is also not simple scaremongering. But neither is it an inevitability. Economics is not physics. And it would be possible for a left government to intervene to prevent closures and job losses – if it was prepared to take companies threatening closures or cuts into public ownership, guaranteeing the jobs and the conditions of those who work there.
This hints at something very important. Because a hard or soft Tory Brexit, or indeed a Remain outcome, are not the only options that exist.
Among the main things which differentiates a socialist approach to this question and others, is the fact that we believe working-class people have the potential to be actors in history. We argue that the intervention of the workers’ movement, especially with clear leadership, has the potential to dramatically alter the situation and completely reframe this debate. Should Corbyn and the union leaders intervene decisively – mobilising the mass of working-class people around a clear programme – it would be possible to put workers’ interests centre stage, to make use of this opportunity to deal a decisive blow to the super-rich and their rigged capitalist system.
4. So how should socialists approach the question of Brexit?
Socialists approach the question of Brexit from a fundamentally different starting point. Unlike the pro-capitalist representatives of both the Leave and Remain camps, we do not recognise the existence of British interests. That’s because we live in a deeply unequal and fundamentally unfair society. We live a society in which the super-rich get richer based on the exploitation of working-class people. Because, despite the propaganda, wealth is not created by genius entrepreneurs, savvy speculators or mega-monopoly men. It is ordinary working people who turn the world’s resources into goods people can use. It’s working people who distribute those goods the world over, who provide services that keep society running. In other words, it is working-class people who create society’s wealth. Profit comes from collectively not paying workers the full value of the wealth they produce.
This means that the interests of workers and the interests of the capitalist class – who own and control the major banks and businesses that dominate our economy – are diametrically opposed.
It’s why genuine internationalism is the property of the workers’ movement – not of any capitalist club. We recognise that workers in Britain have far more in common in terms of shared interests with the workers of France, Romania, South Africa or America than we do with any of the exploitative bosses who happen to share our nationality. That applies as much to Brexit as it does to any other issue you can name.
So what’s needed from Corbyn and the trade union leaders is an approach which is based on fighting for the independent interests of working-class people. What’s needed is an internationalist approach, which recognises the common struggle of workers across the continent of Europe against the brutality of austerity.
So what would such an approach involve? Well, for a start, it would require outlining a very different set of ‘red-lines’ to those laid out by any capitalist politician – including by the pro-capitalist Blairites who sit on the Labour benches. It would mean starting with a negotiating position based on pro-worker red lines – refusing to sign up to any treaty or agreement which undermines workers’ rights, or which attempts to limit the implementation of pro-working class policies. Such a stand would need to be linked with a programme for ending austerity, making huge investment in starved public services, implementing a real living wage, ending pay restraint, bringing in free education, renationalising the railway and utilities, and so on. But such a stand, if it were taken and followed through with by a figure like Corbyn, would ultimately require going much further.
5. What about Greece?
Taking a determined pro-working-class position on Brexit, and fighting to implement policies which threaten the profits of the super-rich few, would inevitably bring down the wrath of the capitalist class, of Britain and of Europe, upon such a government. This ruthless determination to force through austerity policies was most brutally demonstrated in Greece in 2015, when the overwhelming mass of Greek workers voted for a break with cuts politics twice – once by electing the Syriza government, and again in the referendum on the proposed austerity memorandum. The successful attempt by the Troika – the European Commission, European Central Bank and IMF – to crush the Syriza government is instructive. Because tragically, despite the tremendous heroism of the Greek workers, the then Prime Minister Tsipras ultimately capitulated to the Troika’s demands.
In doing so, he went from being an anti-austerity figure to being the enforcer for the most brutal and punishing regimes of cuts in the whole of Greek history. He became an active participant in attempting to crush the Greek working class.
This example should stand as a stark warning to Corbyn. It is rich in lessons. What it shows is that a Corbyn-led government, if it were determined to fight for the interests of working-class people, would need to be prepared to challenge the power of capitalism – in Britain and in Europe – in order to succeed.
Doing so would require a preparedness to meet threats of economic sabotage with a preparedness to take power and control out of the hands of the capitalists and to place it in those of working-class people. To begin with, that would mean nationalising the banks – preventing attempts by the super-rich to take money out of the country. It would mean pledging to take into public ownership any company threatening job losses, closures and relocations, guaranteeing livelihoods of all workers. It would mean removing from capitalist control the major monopolies that dominate the economy, and by extension the lives of millions, nationalising them under democratic workers’ control. And crucially it would mean relying not on parliament – full as it is with pro-capitalist politicians wearing rosettes of all colours – but on the active mobilisation of the working class, on the streets and in the workplaces, for all of its power and legitimacy.
Such an approach, were it fought for, and seen through, would electrify Europe. It would awaken the working class across a continent rich in revolutionary history – pointing towards the possibility of a decisive break with capitalism and with austerity. And it would open the door to a socialist confederation of Europe, and ultimately of the world.
Among the most thorny questions that has been raised by the Brexit debate is over the issue of a so-called ‘backstop’.
Despite his self-presentation as a determined hard Brexiteer, it’s clear Johnson would prefer to arrive at some form of agreement with the European Union. But for him to be able to justify such a deal to his own support base, both in Parliament and outside it, this would need to be one which included significant concessions, particularly on the question of the Irish backstop.
But such concessions are extremely difficult for the EU to agree to. The backstop agreement is designed as a supposed fail-safe. Its purpose to guarantee against the possibility of a hard border between the north and south of Ireland which, if implemented, would inflame sectarianism and has the potential to reignite the troubles.
On a capitalist basis, this problem is in many ways intractable. From the perspective of the EU, any arrangement in which the UK ends up outside of the Single Market or Customs Union without a deal which closely aligns Britain to its central regulations and agreements, would from their point of view necessitate some form of border – either north-south or east-west. The existence of either one of these would be a huge source of sectarian tension and should be strongly opposed by socialists.
Our sister organisation in Ireland – the Socialist Party – campaigns strongly against the hardening of any borders and argues for a united working-class struggle. They argue that, in this situation, the trade union movement – with its 800,000 members in Ireland and six million members in Britain – has a historic responsibility to take up the gauntlet and offer an alternative. The labour movement should organise its own conference to discuss the issue, representing workers across Ireland and Britain.
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU), and the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), should take responsibility for the convening of a conference along these lines. If they don’t face up to their responsibility, then a coalition of the trade union bodies prepared to do so should take the initiative. Such a conference should discuss how the economic interests of the working class in Ireland and Britain could be defended against those who wish to use Brexit to attack workers’ rights and conditions, including the possibility of co-ordinated industrial action. It would also have to discuss how we can defend the unity of the working class in the context of Brexit, preparing to counter any increase in sectarian tension and conflict with protests, demonstrations and industrial action to challenge the sectarian forces.
Ultimately, it is not our Single Market – and working-class people should not have to suffer in order to protect its ‘integrity’ on behalf of the capitalists. On the basis of socialist change – including public ownership of the big monopolies under democratic working-class control – it would be possible to completely eliminate the need for border checks of any kind and to build a society based on solidarity and unity.
What we fight for:
No to Boris coup! For mass protests, bringing together the trade unions, climate strikes movement and all those opposed to this attack on democratic rights
We can’t trust capitalist MPs to protect workers and young people from a Tory No Deal Brexit! Fight for a general election and a Corbyn-led Labour government with socialist policies
Serious trade union-led action against every threatened cut, closure or redundancy
No to a Tory Brexit – deal or no deal. Oppose the capitalist EU. Build real solidarity and coordinated resistance to capitalist policies across Europe
For a socialist England, Wales and Scotland, alongside a socialist Ireland and Europe, where resources are democratically owned and planned