This article by Sean Shirley-Smith, a founding member of the LeFT campaign, was originally published by Labour Hub.
Leave – Fight – Transform, or LeFT, is a grassroots campaign aiming to give voice to those on the left that desire a clean break with the European Union, to fight neoliberalism, and transform society. Founded by trade unionists, socialists, and community activists, it seeks to present a genuine alternative to the hard-right narrative of a Tory Brexit, as well as to the impossible demands of the ‘Remain and Revolt’ camp.
The vote to leave in 2016 was a vote for a fundamental change in society, as working-class people across the country uprooted the status quo of the old neoliberal economic model embodied by the European Union. The privatisation of our public services, and the brutal austerity implemented in the aftermath of the recession, may have been carried out by a Conservative government (enabled by the ever willing Lib-Dems) here in the United Kingdom, but it was in no way mitigated by the EU. Indeed, in regard to privatisation the EU has only sought to encourage it, as seen through the Fourth Railway Package that alters regulations in an attempt to create a single rail area and prevent the nationalisation of that industry.
It is for that reason among others, organisations such as the trade union RMT called for a vote to leave in 2016, and continue to advocate leaving the European Union today. The left’s failure to seize this crucial moment in history has seen us falter, with the argument to leave being dominated by a xenophobic and inward looking right, and the argument to remain dominated by liberals and centrists that are content with the pre-referendum status quo. Neither option is acceptable to any socialist, and it is why now more than ever we need a radical and transformative alternative.
The reasons to support a clean break with the European Union from a left-wing perspective are innumerable. From the long history of left Euroscepticism across the labour movement, at least until that fateful Jacques Delors speech at the Trade Union Congress in 1988, to the racist policies of the EU through its ‘Fortress Europe’ and imperialist customs union. The European Union is not a democratic structure; with its treaty-based obligations to impose regulation on state aid and competition in the market. It is not a reformable structure; with unanimous agreement needed from every EU member state to amend treaty law in order to remove the explicit pro-market and pro-capitalist ideals. It is not a progressive structure; with its willingness to ignore abuses of human rights in Hungary, Poland, and yes, the UK until very recently with its failure to do anything about the archaic abortion laws in the north of Ireland.
Many in the labour movement will know these terrible faults of the European Union, though the media often chooses to ignore them in favour of stoking anti-migrant hostilities or backing the status quo. Despite that, the dominant narrative at least on the national stage has been leaving the EU is regressive, anti-migrant, and dangerous. That is why LeFT is campaigning for an anti-racist, progressive, and socialist alternative.
The political reality means that come the next general election it is likely we will have already crashed out of the European Union with a Tory Brexit or ‘no deal’ situation. The Left and by extension Labour cannot simply campaign to immediately re-join the European Union, in what would be an affront to democratic principles. Instead we must enter an election pledging to utilise the greater latitude given to a government outside the constraints of the EU’s neoliberal order, to end austerity once and for all, to fundamentally transform the economy.
In 2017 the Labour manifesto pledged to renationalise the rail industry, to create a National Investment Bank, and to bring utilities under public ownership. Outside of the EU these pledges would actually be possible, unlike under EU membership as outlined by LeFT’s Alex Gordon and Jonathan White in the Morning Star back in 2017.
If by the time of the general election we remain in the EU despite Conservative promises to have left, there is an extraordinary opportunity to enter an election campaign pledging to exit the European Union on left-wing terms, assuaging the fears of many who are not unsympathetic to our cause but fear any exit under a Conservative government. A radical and transformative manifesto pledging investment in all nations and regions of the UK, alongside diversification of the economy and an end to a legal regime that privileges the rights of capital over people, would not only give hope to millions of working-class people, but ensure that the old logic of neoliberal capitalism was at last ended.
An election is coming, and the left needs to decide what it will do when that time arrives; whether in or out of the EU. Leave – Fight – Transform is not a negative campaign seeking to promote old memories of imperialism or narrow English nationalism. It is instead a positive and transformative campaign seeking to build something new. Capitalism is in crisis once again, class politics is back, and a new generation are determined to build socialism in our lifetime. Join our campaign to leave the EU, fight neoliberalism, and transform society.