Michael Calderbank and Paul O'Connell – The Socialist Offensive

“We’re gonna have to do more than talk. We’re gonna have to do more than listen. We’re gonna have to do more than learn. We’re gonna have to start practicing and that’s very hard. We’re gonna have to start getting out there with the people and that’s difficult. Sometimes we think we’re better than the people so it’s gonna take a lot of hard work”. – Fred Hampton

In the few days since the election, Boris Johnson’s new government have already begun attacks on left-wing media outlets (and the media more generally), moved to undermine the BDS movement in solidarity with the people of Palestine, and indicated that they intend to pick a fight with stalwart trade unions such as the RMT. The fightback against Johnson and his cabal has to start now, but as we move forward we also have to learn the key lessons from the Brexit referendum, the misdeeds of the continuity Remain campaign and the mistakes of sections of the left.

Margaret Thatcher is reported to have said that her greatest political achievement was Tony Blair and New Labour. The New Labour project, like social democratic parties across the developed world, ‘won’ on the electoral plain by abandoning any vision of an alternative to finance-led, neoliberal capitalism, which tossed millions on the scrapheap while hollowing out democracy.

In the wake of the great financial crisis of 2008, the bankruptcy of social democracy in this mould has meant that the right, in general, has triumphed, while the left is almost everywhere floundering. This conjuncture attests to the accuracy of Samir Amin’s observation that in the absence of positive utopias, people will retreat into reactionary ones. The Brexit vote was by no means a simple working-class rebellion against the status quo, at least not in any progressive sense. But it was a clear statement that working class people want an alternative to the status quo.

The historical obligation of the left is to articulate this alternative. In the wake of Brexit this could not be achieved by aligning with Tony Blair, or the charlatan Lib Dems, but unfortunately liberal left commentators, and opportunistic elements within the Labour Party failed to see this. The left, in the Labour Party and elsewhere, should have accepted Brexit as a political fact and begun a socialist offensive to remake British society – to build, as Amin puts it, the world we wish to see.

We failed, collectively to do this, and the recent election result is a consequence of that. To  move forward now and build the movement we need to resist the Tory onslaught, it will be necessary to move forward, to pick up the fractured pieces of the left and build around shared beliefs and goals. In this regard three key lessons need to be drawn from the Brexit debate, which in turn provide three key principles that should shape the struggles of the left going forward.

The first is that the left in the Britain, whether in the Labour Party, trade unions, or various groupings on the revolutionary left, is divorced, in key respects, from the working-class communities that it purports to speak for. This is not just Northern working-class communities, but throughout the country. A central tenet of socialist politics, articulated explicitly by Marx, has been that the emancipation of working-class people was, in the first instance, the job of the working class. In various ways many sections of the formal left has lost faith with this basic principle, and by retreating into professionalised politics (whether in political parties/groupings, NGOs, trade unions, media punditry or academia) has lost any meaningful, organic connection with the with working class communities and their daily struggles.

In the era opening before us, it is crucial then that those on the left work assiduously to ensure that their work, ideas and arguments are immersed in the concrete struggles of all working-class people. This will take the form of specific workplace struggles, campaigns for migrant rights, community struggles to defend the NHS, and more. Whatever form the struggle takes, socialists must ensure that their frame of reference is the experience of communities at the coal face, and not the self-referential and self-reinforcing bubble of mainstream politics, parliamentarianism and faux radical media personalities.

A second key principle, which draws on what was best in those who argued for Remain, is that a large number of people are committed to a form of internationalism. The mistake is to identify these positive ideals with the EU, which, as E. P. Thompson long ago noted, has only ever been a truncated form of internationalism. The positive principles implicit in the best elements of the Remain campaign will be central to socialist politics. We must make an uncompromising defence of workers’ rights – including those of migrant workers – together with an unrepentant anti-racism and a genuine internationalism, the core of our politics.

The final key lesson and principle that emerges from the Brexit debate is the centrality of the struggle for democracy. It is easy for the liberal commentariat to blithely dismiss the slogan of ‘taking back control’ as articulated by Eton-educated career politicians. But the purchase of this slogan shows vast sections of the working class want more of a say in the decisions that shape and impact on their lives. People, with varying degrees of consciousness, are rejecting the tyranny of impersonal market forces controlling their lives and demanding a say in what the future looks like. This desire to become active protagonists in shaping the world around them is something socialists must embrace. This is even more reason why the siren call of overturning the referendum result should have been resisted.

The left needs to push for an expansion and proliferation of democracy and participation in every aspect of our shared lives: in local communities, political parties, trade unions and over matters of national policy. In certain respects, the Corbyn phenomenon produced a surge of such democratic, mass involvement within the Labour Party. This, of course, faces a counter-offensive from the representatives of the extreme centre in the Labour Party, and in the mainstream media, including erstwhile supporters. Those focused solely, or primarily, on the politics of parliamentarianism are happy to jettison the green shoots of change that Corbyn represented in favour of a Blair-lite, ‘electable’ candidate.

In the impending leadership election to decide who succeeds Corbyn, it will be crucial that the left of Labour, trade unions and the wider socialist movement focus on the key priorities for the movement going forward, and not on the mundanities of personality, stature and so on. The left should articulate its short-term priorities, draft a set of core principles, and demand that anyone standing to lead the Labour Party signs up those principles – to salvage what gains have been made during the Corbyn moment the focus has to be on substance, and not cosmetics.

Instead of resignedly accepting the logic of the establishment, socialists must make every aspect of people’s lives a realm of politics, struggle and change and must argue for and work towards a fundamental transformation of the post-Brexit landscape. The Chilean socialist Marta Harnecker has articulated the real challenge for socialists in the 21st century – for her:

‘Politics is the art of making the impossible possible, not from some voluntarist urge to change things but because our efforts should be realistically focused on changing the current balance of power so that what appears to be impossible today becomes possible tomorrow.’

For the left in the UK, resignation and melancholy are luxuries we cannot afford. Having plunged us into a major crisis by airing their dirty laundry in public, the right has regrouped and is on the offensive. The sort of Brexit that many fear, is only inevitable if we resign ourselves to it. If, instead, we go on the offensive, then we can take this moment to remake British society. The future is open, how it turns out will depend on the steps we take, and the resolve we show: there are no guarantees, but if we unite and fight, we can win.

Michael Calderbank and Paul O’Connell are members of the LeFT Campaign Working Group. This post draws on an updated extract of an article previously published in Red Pepper.

Dan Evans – Election Fallout

Many Marxists on the British left, variously derided as lunatics, Stalinists, lexiters, cranks, warned that Labour’s liberal drift on Brexit would be disastrous, both electorally and in terms of trying to build an insurgent, socialist movement. Such warnings were ignored, and unfortunately, we all know how the election played out. Labour’s original position of respecting the result of the 2017 referendum was patently right. The pivot to a second referendum, informed by polling data (propagated by opportunistic political scientists) which claimed that Labour voters in leave voting Labour heartlands actually voted remain, was a disaster. Labour leave voters deserted the party en masse across their traditional heartlands, Labour lost all the key marginals. People wanted to get Brexit done. You cannot win over working class people, no matter how good your social programme, by prefacing it by telling them you are going to overturn their democratic wishes.

The fact that this glaring, painfully obvious fact was not grasped, and continues not to be, illuminates one of the key problems with Corbynism: rather than building on the 2017 bounce and becoming a mass, working class movement rooted in trade unions, parallel working class institutions and working class communities; it allowed itself to become a top down movement, led by celebrity leftists who, although very well meaning and useful in many ways, have no clue about working class communities and no clue about class politics. This celebrity cadre and groups like Another Europe provided left wing cover for the party’s gradual pivot to remain- a campaign funded and driven by the likes of Peter Mandelson- because they ultimately don’t come from the communities that voted leave and simply don’t know what it’s like to be patronised and taken for granted.

Since 2016, the left’s prevailing culture of solipsism prevented people from performing the simple, vital human task of putting themselves in the shoes of others, of people who voted leave, and to reflect on how they would feel if their vote was overturned.

This is not about gloating, there is no time for that. The fact that that those of us who argued the principled, socialist case for respecting the referendum result and leaving the EU were so marginalised and helpless during the campaign, that we could do nothing to prevent the disastrous pivot to remain, also reflects poorly on us. There is no pride in being a minor tendency that people can routinely ignore, no comfort in being right when our communities stand to be decimated.

I personally feel desperately ashamed that I have not done more, have not been persuasive enough: I know that Marxist analysis rooted in the working class provides both map and compass to help us navigate these dangerous times, but this is no good if people won’t listen. On reflection I have almost certainly been too snarky with people, too hostile – more concerned perhaps with being ironic and building cultural capital on the echo chamber of Twitter, rather than persuading people in a comradely way. This is something I will reflect on over the coming days and months.

Next steps.

The LeFT Campaign has already set out an analysis of why we lost, and what we need to do next to make sure we can win the critical fights ahead. This provides a starting point for how we orientate ourselves going forward. The key immediate short-term task (i.e., over the next 6 months) for Labour will be to defend the gains of Corbynism, prevent the party from tacking right and becoming once again controlled by neoliberals, or by the deeply worrying, chauvinistic identity politics of Blue Labour. The left need to finally win control of the Labour party once and for all. This will require providing intensive political education to the new cadres of activists who have recently entered the labour movement and have been inspired by Corbynism.

The British Labour movement have never understood how power works, and this naivety has repeatedly proved extremely damaging. One of the key pillars of this political education therefore needs to be illustrating the nature of state power and the huge structural forces arraigned against the left. If we take any positives from this defeat it should be that in the campaign against Corbyn, the state establishment – the Labour right, the civil service, the security apparatus, the media, etc – was repeatedly unmasked as a tool of capital. The attacks on Corbyn need to be analysed and understood as an example of how the state is not a neutral tool that the left can simply take over and wield, but has a class character of its own. Hopefully, many of the young people drawn into the Labour movement by Corbynism saw this with their own eyes and will be less naïve about the scale of the challenges we face than their forebears.

After this, the long term task is to begin the unglamorous task of rebuilding the working class apparatuses which once sustained working class power. Corbynism tried to take power without undertaking this necessary work, and its failure proves that this is non-negotiable: there are no shortcuts to taking power.

The first part of this strategy will be to develop a mass trade union movement. This will require the movement to become more flexible in its recruitment practices and modern and radical in its aims, focusing on mass increases in union membership in the huge swathes of workers who remain un-unionised in the gig economy and service sectors. For starters, there needs to be an unemployed workers’ union, a renters’ union, a union for third sector workers. The second part of building up counter-hegemony (or ‘dual power’) will involve building community centres, libraries, adult education, sports clubs, political education provision, and finally, belatedly, becoming involved in non-parliamentary forms of politics.

Realising that politics doesn’t just mean voting and canvassing every 4 years is a powerful lesson to take from all this. One of the most potent ways that this could (and indeed urgently needs) to be achieved is allying the mass Labour movement to an insurgent, extra parliamentary environmental movement, most obviously represented by (but not limited to) the group Extinction Rebellion. This will prevent the labour movement from reneging on its crucial environmental promises, and will stop the environmental movement being co-opted by capital and let down by some of the problematic people involved in XR.  

Becoming Resolute

Liberals, including some (by no means all) of the leaders of Momentum and the Labour party, routinely shit the bed. They are bottlers. They are weak. They panic and wobble when things aren’t looking good, they clamour to try and appeal to everyone, to please The Guardian, to placate the media (who will hate us whatever we do) and the middle classes.

In the event, Corbyn’s biggest flaw was that he was not resolute enough as a leader. He didn’t stand up to people like John McDonnell and Owen Jones who pressured him into pivoting to remain. He didn’t go through with deselections when he needed to be ruthless and clear out all the Blairites from the PLP by any means necessary. He capitulated and accepted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism and apologised when he had nothing to apologise for. He capitulated and got rid of Chris Williamson even when Tony Blair was allowed to remain in the party. He didn’t win the battle for the soul of the Labour party, and ultimately paid the price for this.

I want to emphasise that while I am critical of Corbyn (and many on the Labour left) for this, Jeremy Corbyn is a hero of the Labour movement. A kind, compassionate man who gave hope to millions of people and dented the prevailing consensus of capitalist realism. I am proud to have campaigned for him and socialists around the world should all be extremely grateful to him. But while Corbyn’s personal qualities and contribution are laudable, as a movement we need to be far more resolute in the face of our enemies.

Despite being utterly repellent, Boris Johnson and many of his public-school ilk are ruthless, hard, motivated individuals (perhaps as a function of the brutalising trauma of boarding school). When he came into power, Johnson cleaned house. Our new Tory leaders are determined to get what they want and don’t care what people think.

It is possible to be unwavering whilst retaining love and compassion that marks us out from Tory sociopathy. Socialists have to be tough when the chips are down, we have to take strength from the fact that we believe in what we are doing is right, and above all, we draw strength from being part of a mass movement rooted in our communities. Without being part of a collective we will always falter, and the harsh reality is that when it mattered, we were not there in sufficient numbers as an extra parliamentary movement to support Jeremy Corbyn when he should’ve stood against his right wing and taken the tough decisions outlined above. He was exposed and isolated when he needed a mass movement to lean on.

We must always remember that we the working class are alone the motor of history and when we are organized we are the most powerful force in the world.

Dan Evans is Welsh sociologist, founding signatory of the LeFT Campaign and co-host of the Desolation Radio podcast.

Paul O'Connell – Why We Lost, How We Win

“Intelligence enough to conceive, courage enough to will, power enough to compel. If our ideas of a new society are anything more than a dream, these three qualities must animate the majority of the working-people; and then, I say, the thing will be done”. – William Morris

Why Labour has lost the election despite the immense efforts of thousands of committed activists and the most progressive manifesto in years is a crucial question to orientate the next phase of socialist politics and class struggle in Britain. Indeed, the battle of interpretation over the result will be a determining factor in the ongoing internal fights within the labour movement, the strategy and tactics moving forward for the radical left and for the lessons drawn by the wider working class.

One interpretation which is already being pushed by the liberal left is that Labour (read Corbyn) were too slow to articulate the politics of Remain. As such, the argument goes, Labour ended up electorally betwixt and between, when it should have embraced the virtues of Remain, while bringing recalcitrant Leave-voting working class voters with it. This argument is being pushed by groups like Another Europe is Possible and the usual coterie of liberal commentators in the Guardian and elsewhere. But this analysis draws all the wrong conclusions from the last five years and would set the left up for further failure if it gained traction. Another view, pushed by elements on the right of the Labour Party, is that Labour lost touch with the “socially conservative” or “traditional” working class – this is as mistaken and detrimental an approach as that advanced by the liberals, and both should be rejected by the socialist left going forward.

In truth, the decisive reason Labour lost the election is that over the last three years it shifted from being a party committed to respecting the result of the Brexit referendum, to being a party of Remain in all but name. There were, of course, a number of other important reasons, ranging from the undisguised bias of the mainstream media, the pessimism ingrained by more than thirty years of neoliberalism, and a concerted campaign of character assassination against Corbyn, carried out over the last four years, often with the support of many Labour MPs and disgruntled Blairites in the media.

But Labour’s changed stance on Brexit proved decisive as this was the key issue for many voters in the election, formed the core of the Tory election message (dutifully parroted by the media) and is reflected in the Leave voting constituencies which Labour lost to the Tories. Indeed, partway through the election campaign it’s clear the Labour leadership recognised that this issue was hurting the campaign and pivoted to Leave voting constituencies in the North and Midlands, while keeping arch-Remainers like Emily Thornberry and Keir Starmer out of the media spotlight. This, unfortunately, proved too little, too late.

The shift in Labour’s position was brought about by a concerted campaign led by the worst remnants of the Blair years (Mandelson, Campbell, Blair, Watson and co.), with the support of most in the media and the wider political class. Once Labour was successfully manoeuvred into backing a second referendum, the electoral logic of this position was to try to capture the disgruntled middle classes, who form the social base of the second vote/Remain block, and to hope that working class communities that had voted Leave in the referendum could be won over with promises of a brighter material future under a Labour government. In order to pursue this strategy, Labour had to try to make the election about everything but Brexit, but this was a naïve strategy, that never stood a chance.

While working class people’s lives are blighted by austerity, the effects of public sector cuts, job insecurity and falling wages, and the spectre of climate catastrophe has increasingly come to the fore in recent years, politics (in the narrow sense the frames the terrain of electoralism) in Britain has been dominated by Brexit for almost four years. It has become the terrain on which a bizarre, but entrenched, culture war is fought out, and in the weeks before the election was called Labour had twice refused to vote for a General Election, on the basis of wanting to secure guarantees about a “no deal” Brexit.

In the end, this remained, as it was always likely to be, the “Brexit election” and large numbers of working class Leave voters (as well as many working class Remain voters) bought into the empty rhetoric and promises of Johnson and co, and voted for what they hope will be an end to the Brexit uncertainty (it won’t be), but they have also voted against the perceived contempt in Labour’s disingenuous offer to Leave voters. The election, then, was lost because Labour chose to privilege the politics of the middle class, over that of large sections of the working class on the defining issue of Brexit.

This was also crucial because of the core issue of trust and integrity. While the Brexit vote is complex, the majority of working-class people that voted for it (which was a majority of the working class that voted) are from areas that have witnessed industrial decline, poverty and marginalisation for decades. These are areas were people have been told for years, explicitly and implicitly, that there was nothing they could do to change their lot. With the Brexit vote, they got a say on a crucial issue of national policy, a once in a lifetime say. But when they voted for Brexit, the established reacted immediately with efforts to delegitimate and overturn the result.

In the 2017 General Election, Labour promised to respect the Brexit vote, and fight for the best possible Brexit – married to its radical manifesto, this allowed Labour to present itself as a genuine insurgent force. In this election, having capitulated to the demands of reactionary liberalism and committed itself to a second referendum, Labour could not consistently present itself as a party of insurgent change and transformation, while playing the part of restoring the status quo ante on the Brexit issue. Labour could not be partly radical, partly on the side of the working class in Leave voting areas, it had to be wholehearted, and it wasn’t.

The election result leaves us facing up to five more years of Tory rule, and we can be under no illusions that in this time they will go on the attack against workers’ rights, migrants, public services and the environment. Given that we have likely already entered the early stages of the next recession, the austerity and inhumanity of the last decade of Tory-Lib Dem rule will be redoubled and the working class will, as ever, be at the sharp end of this class warfare. As such, we have to reject the entirely understandable impulse to mourn this loss, and instead move swiftly to organising ourselves for the fights ahead.

But in moving forward we have to take stock of the experiences of the last few years, to understand how we have gotten to where we are now, and to orientate ourselves for our next steps. To do this we must refocus on the central principles of socialism. Socialist politics is grounded on the central divisions in society between the tiny minority that owns the wealth of society, and the rest of us who have to work for the scraps off their table. Socialism is about class, class interests, class struggle, and understanding the dizzying, confusing mess of modern society through the lens of class analysis, so as to make sense of it, and work to transform society.

In this election, and over the last four years marked by the Brexit conjuncture, Labour and many on the left have lost sight of the centrality of class when it comes to Brexit. As such, it has been possible to dismiss Brexit as a mere racist endeavour, to imagine that the vote to leave could be dismissed, and the mob who voted for it could be won around with the promise of what’s better for them – this is the politics of arrogant Fabianism, and is not the basis for building a radical alternative.

At the General Election in 2017, a Corbyn-led Labour Party secured the biggest increase in the party’s vote since World War II by accepting the result of the referendum and connecting the ruptural energy of the Brexit vote to a manifesto that promised radical change for working class communities. In this election, Labour advanced even more radical policies, but was not able to convincingly present itself as the party of radical transformation, while at the same time being committed, in effect, to disregarding and overturning the Brexit vote.

While the Brexit conjuncture is complex, it is in the first instance a rejection of the status quo. In this way it overlapped with the growing support for Corbyn, this is why it is no mere coincidence that those most fervently opposed to Brexit are also those most hostile to Corbyn and the Corbyn project in Labour. In this election Labour sided, on a crucially defining issue, with its opponents, and as such was rejected by many of those who should be its natural base.

The great shame of it is that the policies on almost everything else in the Labour manifesto are in line with the interests of working class people, but the fundamental problem is that because of how it approached the issue of Brexit, Labour ended up, in many working class communities, appearing as an outsider, offering to advance socialism for the working class, but not with it. This stems from the fact that while the Corbyn moment reflected a reinvigoration of loosely socialist ideas, it was not grounded in working class communities and workplaces. The recently formed community organising unit presages some of what can and should be done on this front, but this sort of work has been a peripheral element of the Corbyn moment, and the broader movement around it, to date.

In the weeks, months and years ahead, we have to expand our efforts to build a serious, socialist movement grounded in, led by and responsive to working class communities. We have to make clear, as the Tories unleash even more savage class warfare, that only the working class itself can resist austerity, defend workers and migrants’ rights, lead the fight back against the bourgeoning far right and confront the threat of climate catastrophe.

This will mean many different things:

  • we will need to develop organised networks of activists and trade unionists both within and outside the Labour Party to advance a genuine, socialist analysis of the problems that confront our communities (in an otherwise barren landscape, some local Momentum groups, Helping Hands in Edinburgh, and ACORN provide some templates to build on);
  • political education has to be a priority within the movement, far more so than it has been to date – notable celebrity commentators imparting bland slogans are no substitute for organised, educated cadres of committed socialists in our communities and workplaces;
  • in doing this, we will need to develop media platforms that break with the individualism and narcissism of the current sea of podcasts, Patreons and niche publications.

Recent years, marked both by Brexit and the Corbyn moment, show that in these turbulent times there is appetite for serious change, and this election does not change that. The Tory Party may now, at least, deliver on the UK formally leaving the EU (this won’t be “Brexit sorted”, as Brexit is a complex process and not a formal event), and that opens the space for the socialist left to re-focus all our efforts on fighting to fundamentally transform and shape post-Brexit Britain. For while the Tories have held together around Brexit for this election, they are a party riven with division, reflecting the crisis of the British state and ruling class, and their apparent strength at present is an illusion.

As we face up to these new challenges, we must learn from the mistakes of recent years: too much time has been spent on the minutiae of Labour Party proceduralism, and not enough on building in communities and workplaces. Going forward, we need to take the inspirational energy demonstrated during the election and carry it over into organising and mobilising to transform our trade unions, to build alternative models of democracy and community empowerment on issues from public transport, to schools, health care and the environment. Crucially, we need to reorientate our politics to the centrality of class (of the working class in its entirety, not some mythical traditional or white working class).

This has to be the focus, because without the working class there is no socialism: in the absence of empowered, protagonistic working class communities and organisations there is no rupture with the status quo. We have to take the best that has emerged from the Corbyn moment but break with the errors that have brought us to where we are now. We have suffered a defeat, but the battle of our lives begins now.

Paul O’Connell is a member of the LeFT Campaign Working Group.

Which Side Are You On?

The Brexit Party appeared on the UK political scene in January of this year. We ought to see it as an effect of the political impasse of the last three years; in particular, as a political grouping (it is hard to really see them as a party, seeing as they have so few policies) that would not exist if two discrete sets of circumstances had not come about: the failure of the Tory party to deliver Brexit and the failure of a left argument for Brexit to gain traction. Let’s take both of these in turn.

Brexit brought to the fore contradictions in British Conservatism that could not be resolved, namely:

  • How the first party of capital could affect a break with the EU in the context of the fact that it would damage capital. There is no better deal for British capital and the vast majority of the ruling class than the one that they currently have.
  • How a remain-supporting parliamentary party could seek a deal that achieved damage limitation while keeping both its Eurosceptic base and Eurosceptic right in parliament happy.

Brexit also brought to the fore contradictions in the left and specifically, British Labourism, though they are of a different order:

  • How the leftward push brought about by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership could be maintained in the context of the majority of the labour movement in broad terms aligning itself with the EU from the late 1980s onwards. This is an alignment that has placed the left on the same side as the establishment.
  • In this context, given the paucity of concrete analyses of the material character of the EU, how the left could continue to grow in the Labour Party while being under attack from the Europhile right and centre.
  • How the Labour Party could speak for its traditional base, much of which had voted out, while keeping on board the section of the working class that had voted remain, and its liberal middle class base, which identifies strongly with a certain notion of Europeanism.

This set of circumstances has given ample space for the growth of the Brexit Party. It is important to note that it is not the same as UKIP, despite the presence of the ubiquitous Nigel Farage. It is not as anti-immigrant; the context here is UKIP’s increasing move rightwards into working with fascist groups and individuals such as Tommy Robinson. Moreover, left cover has been given to it by the support of George Galloway, who also considered standing for it, and of Claire Fox, and other former members of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) who now congregate around the online site Spiked. In reality, Fox et al made the journey from ultra-leftism to right wing libertarianism quite some time ago, but the veneer is still there, as witnessed by Fox’s speech at a rally in May, where she quoted Tony Benn and Sylvia Pankhurst. She is now an MEP.

Do not be fooled by any of this.

The Brexit Party is an anti-working class organisation that organises around nationalism, and abstract ideological notions of democracy and traitorousness. Its entire modus operandi is to deny the contradictions described above and instead to ascribe blame to the actions of individuals, who they refer to as elites standing in the way of the ‘will of the people’. That is the language of the 1930s. No socialist should have any truck with such a way of viewing the world, as it effaces the reality of how capitalism works: its structures; its sites of power; its clash of competing forces.

Furthermore, what will a vote for the Brexit Party achieve? What else do they stand for? Is there any version of reality where they would work with a Brexit-supporting left? Of course, the answer to the last question is no. In terms of their other policies, there are none to speak of, though Nigel Farage has attempted to respond to the way in which Brexit represents a rupture with the neoliberal consensus by suggesting he would get rid of the House of Lords, a demand he has been making periodically for some time now. This is extremely unlikely, notwithstanding the chance of his ever being in a position to do it. He and the other driving forces behind the Brexit Party are thoroughly establishment figures, even if they do project a sense of being renegades.

It is a shame that the response of the Labour Party to the rise of the Brexit Party – and more broadly, to the threat of no deal – was to form a sort of Popular Front with forces to its right, as discussed in this piece we published in September. The effect of such forces is never to further the interests of the left, and this can be seen in the two months of wasted parliamentary shenanigans prior to Labour thankfully agreeing to a general election recently.

At that election next month, there will be working class socialists tempted to vote for the Brexit Party in an attempt to show their frustration at Labour’s drift, which has seen it back a second referendum. However, LeFT strongly cautions against going down such a road. While we do not support a second referendum, the reality is that the road to a left transforming government outside the EU must now take that in along the way.

What is the alternative?

Five more years of Tory government, perhaps propped up by more reactionary forces to its right in the Brexit Party. A vote for the Brexit Party outside the cities in the north and midlands will most likely let the Tories in. No socialist can want that.

Kevin Ovenden – Trump’s Syria Move, Fossil Fuels and Growing Crisis in the Mediterranean

A summit meeting between Greece, Cyprus and Israel took place in Cairo yesterday.

It came amid mounting tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, which may intensify sharply when the expected Turkish invasion of northern Syria takes place – and with it an intensification of the Syrian regime’s offensive in Idlib.

The tripartite pact of Greece and Cyprus acting alongside Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s dictatorship in Egypt and Israel is a continuation of a deep policy pursued under the former Syriza government and is at the centre of the Greek state’s strategic ambition in the region.

There is already an escalating standoff with Turkey. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades has recklessly broken off the semblance of a peace process with Turkish northern Cyprus and has unilaterally moved to begin exploiting the gas fields off the island.

Despite control over the maritime zone being disputed, Anastasiades’s right-wing government has been parcelling up the area and selling off drilling licences to France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and other fossil fuel giants.

Observers in Nicosia say the Cypriot government and its big business backers are behaving as if they have discovered Eldorado.

They have been intimating that the involvement of French, Italian and US multinationals means they can rely on those states to back Cyprus in the face of strident objections from the Turkish state.

But the months of provocation have produced a reaction from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A couple of days ago, he sent two Turkish ships into the middle of the zone to begin his own drilling.

There’s now a very dangerous crisis. Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias flew to Nicosia to make theatrical noises that gunboat diplomacy “belongs in another century.”

But Erdogan’s move has exposed something of the bluff in the Cypriot position. Neither France nor Italy show any inclination to deploy naval force to confront the Turkish presence or pose as deterrent.

The Greek military and diplomatic strategy in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean has been to try to exploit tensions and divergences between the US and its other major Nato ally in the region, Turkey.

That is a continuation of a settled Greek state policy going back decades. This, incidentally, gives the lie to “left-patriotic” claims that Greece’s outsized military machine is somehow progressive because in confronting Turkey it is “challenging US imperialism.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed a new defence deal with Greece in Athens on Saturday, extending the licence of the Souda naval base on Crete and expanding the number of bases for US forces.

Greece is the only country other than the US to have the highest level of military co-operation with Israel — a policy secured by Alexis Tsipras.

Since Saturday, it is not only the Turkish naval deployment that has brought this Greece-Cyprus expansionism up against reality.

Even more so is Donald Trump’s decision to pull back US forces from northern Syria, facilitating Erdogan’s plan for a huge military operation to destroy the quasi-independent Kurdish entity there.

Trump is running into opposition from hawkish Republicans, progressive Democrats and the Pentagon. The last time he tried to do this, it brought the resignation of his defence secretary.

The US opposition is nothing to do with loyalty to the Kurds. It is everything to do with fear that a drawdown and pullout from Syria would signal the collapse of any pretence of US hegemony in the region, already seriously wounded from Iraq onwards.

It’s also a major blow to Greece and Cyprus — hence the emergency summit with Sisi and Benjamin Netanyahu, the latter facing possibly a third general election in a year.

The Greek gambit has depended on Washington constraining Turkish ambition and Greece benefiting from the unstable balance. If Trump gets away with shifting that balance, it will strengthen Erdogan, but in a more chaotic situation.

There are the flashpoints off Cyprus and also in the Aegean.

Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria are meeting with the EU to come up with more emergency and brutal methods to prevent a major refugee flow anticipated from the Turkish offensive in Syria and Damascus’s advance into Idlib.

Erdogan is also using the Syrian refugees as an instrument. He wants to remove large numbers from Turkey.

He’s used the “threat” of them crossing the Aegean to extract billions from the European Union through the infamous deal with Angela Merkel.

Now he wants to repopulate the zone in northern Syria, ethnically cleansed of Kurds, with Sunni Arab Syrians dependent on Turkish military overlordship.

The impacts cascade from the north Aegean to Cyprus — home, of course, to Britain’s sovereign military bases that give it some prestige in the region.

Trump is running up against the same problem Barack Obama did and, despite the erratic current administration, there is continuity with what went before.

Obama wanted a lighter touch in the Middle East, a “pivot to Asia” and to leave the regional powers to stabilise things in concert.

But the regional powers have their own interests, overlapping sometimes but also in conflict. That is seen from Yemen and the Gulf, through the disaster of Syria, to Cyprus and the Greek-Turkish conflict in the Aegean.

It has been suppressed over the decades only by the cold war and then by continuing US power holding the ring between its two allies.

This is all breaking down. And the EU is not going to fill the gap, except on the anti-refugee front.

The need for vigorous anti-war movements guided by the internationalist principle of confronting your own imperialist war machine is growing.

This applies to Britain, where — thanks to the hangover presence in Cyprus from the days of empire — British governments still feel their interference in the region is required.

As climate change protests continue, it is also a point not lost on many that a critical centre of this morphing crisis is the exploitation by fossil fuel companies and rival states of massive gas deposits. One estimate is that gas fields under the sea between Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel (Palestine) rival those of Algeria’s, a major gas producer.

The case for leaving it in the ground is not only about future impact on the climate. It is about stopping the spread of war right now.

Kevin Ovenden is a journalist, political activist and signatory to the founding statement of LeFT. This article was originally published in the Morning Star.

Dan Evans – Some Brief Thoughts on Wales and Brexit

The Merthyr Uprising (1831)

In the 2016 EU referendum, unlike our Celtic cousins in Northern Ireland and Scotland, Wales voted to leave. There were significant regional variations in the vote. Welsh speaking rural areas of Gwynedd and Ceredigion voted to remain, alongside Cardiff and its hinterland, the Vale of Glamorgan. All of the former industrial areas of south and west Wales voted to leave, as well as the ‘British Wales’ areas of Pembrokeshire, Powys and the north east Wales border counties. Only 5 out of 22 local authorities voted to remain, and of those, Monmouth and the Vale of Glamorgan were remain by an incredibly narrow margin.

Turnout in the EU referendum was higher in Wales than in Scotland and Northern Ireland, at 71%, dwarfing the usually tiny turnout in the Welsh Assembly elections, which has not passed 45% since the first ones were held in 1999.

In Merthyr, one of the Welsh towns that has since become synonymous with Brexit, turnout was 67%, compared to 60% in the 2017 General Election, 53% in 2015, and 58% in 2010. In Blaenau Gwent, turnout for the referendum was 68%, higher than any general election since 1997. In Bridgend, where I’m from, and in many other parts of Wales, this surge was repeated.

This wasn’t meant to happen. In the popular imagination, Wales was a social democratic (and by extension, pro EU) country. What’s more, Wales had received over 4 billion pounds worth of EU ‘Objective One’ funding since 2001- surely it wasn’t going to bite the hand that feeds?

But, it did. Wales has since become a worldwide case study for short sightedness, for people allegedly voting against their material self-interest, in a way reminiscent of Thomas Frank’s case study of Kansas.

Since the result, journalists have descended on the Welsh valleys in their droves, measuring people’s heads like colonial anthropologists as they attempt to get to the bottom of it all. With honourable exceptions, these John Harris- inspired walking tours of the valleys have been patronising and simplistic, reliant on clichés and stock imagery.

The stories blend into one: This area depends on EU money but voted to leave! How could they do this! They hate immigrants but there ARE no immigrants!

Articles bemoaning the leave vote when Wales is ‘entirely dependent on EU objective one funds’ were (and continue to be) written without a hit of irony, as if being entirely dependent on the whims of footloose foreign capital or surviving on handouts is a good thing, or that shiny new buildings or roads could genuinely compensate for the lack of jobs and sense of deep despair in leave voting areas.

Of course, there were myriad reasons as to why Wales voted to leave. Wales is not just ‘the valleys’ but is a remarkably diverse place which contains middle class areas, migrants from all over the world, as well as huge amounts of English born people. In some ways, the leave vote usefully exploded annoying, entrenched narratives weaponised by Labourists over the years in Wales- that Welsh speaking areas were parochial and racist, that the valleys were beacons of socialism and progressive politics(nowhere is innately anything).

Yet this cardboard cut-out caricature has been replaced with a new one: that ‘the valleys’ are full of racist, ungrateful morons, whilst Welsh speaking areas are all full of cosmopolitan Europhiles, (something undermined by the fact that the Welsh speaking anthracite coalfields of West Wales also voted leave).

In Wales, some academic analyses (or more accurately, polling) have also strongly intimated that Wales’ leave vote was down to the English population, something which cannot explain the fact that the highest leave voting areas in Wales- the valleys- are also those with the highest % of Welsh born and Welsh identifying people.

The English population in Wales is extremely diverse and in all likelihood the ‘English’ also contributed significantly to the remain vote in Ceredigion, Monmouth and the Vale of Glamorgan, as well as contributing to the leave vote in places like Conwy.

It has also been rightly pointed out that, unlike Scotland, Wales has no national media to counter the xenophobic British press, nor a popular leading party that could offer a relatively coherent case for remain as the SNP did in Scotland.

Whilst there is some truth to all these analyses- and indeed they are often combined together as people try to make sense of it all- focusing on them can obfuscate the most glaringly obvious reasons as to why people voted to leave: capitalism has destroyed Wales, ‘politics’ has failed Wales, devolution has failed to do what it promised to do, and that most people (whether Welsh or English) were upset about being ignored and exploited. Sometimes the most obvious explanation is the right one: the leave vote in Wales was a vote for political change rooted in material conditions and exposure to austerity.

Brexit is the logical outcome of alienation from the political and economic system. Whilst the Welsh ‘devolution industry’ ignores established academic norms that decreasing turnout in elections represent symptoms of distrust and a rejection of politics, there are other, ‘non-political’ indicators that we live in a deeply broken country. How about the rapidly increasing suicide rate?; or our mass dependence on painkillers?.

It would of course be dangerously complacent to deny that there wasn’t an anti-immigration element to the leave vote in Wales, but like in other cases, this is not articulated as blind xenophobia, but is instead a proxy for economic precarity and decreasing wages. It is vital that socialists stand in solidarity with migrants and those groups who may be feeling vulnerable during the present moment and begin a campaign of political education to eradicate national chauvinism.

As the LefT campaign has made clear, the leave vote in Wales was not about Europe per se, but about alienation born of poverty and a hollowing out of democracy. It is important to realise that the conditions that led to Wales’ alienation are of course not unique, although they are exceptionally sharp here and have longer roots.

These symptoms, whilst glaring to those of us who live and work in working class communities, were ignored by Wales’ political and media establishment prior to Brexit, and three years hence, continue to be ignored by the same people- those who have made their careers off the back of our communities, who have profited from devolution and who have remained insulated from austerity.

People who claim with a straight face that a 35% turnout in the 2011 referendum on further powers to the Welsh Assembly was resounding and evidence that devolution is the ‘settled will’ of the Welsh people; who wouldn’t have dreamed of re-running the 1997 devolution referendum despite it being far narrower than the 2016 referendum, have done all they possibly can to overturn the result and pour scorn on the communities who voted to leave.

For these people the idea of people losing faith in the political system, of being angry, of being hurt, is clearly inconceivable.

Most of Wales’ Blairite Labour MPs- who are largely responsible for the sharp decline of the Labour vote in Wales since 1992 — are heavily involved in the Progress/ultra remainer bloc in the PLP, and have been at the forefront of the campaign to depose Jeremy Corbyn. Naturally, they blamed Jeremy Corbyn for the 2016 referendum result rather than face up to their own culpability of meekly accepting and administering the economic paradigm which has created the conditions which drove the leave vote in Wales.

Welsh Labour in the Senedd, despite the election of the deeply underwhelming ‘Corbyn supporter’ Mark Drakeford, remains similarly dominated by pro-EU ultras. Whilst Drakeford feebly tried to hold Labour’s original, principled line of respecting the referendum result, he has gradually been bullied into going hard remain and supporting a second referendum, a position which is sure to cost Labour votes in Wales.

In 1975, Plaid Cymru campaigned against the EC, arguing that an overreliance on EU aid simply confirmed Wales’ position as a dependent periphery, and that regional aid policies were simply designed to reconcile places like Wales to their subordinate position and to open up Wales to foreign capital.

In 2016, many nationalists interpreted the leave vote as representing an existential threat to Wales itself, similar to the trauma of the failed 1979 referendum vote. In response, Plaid have now transformed into an ultra remainer party, even calling for article 50 to be revoked. Indeed, their old socialist leader, Leanne Wood, was deposed last year, allegedly for her principled stance that Plaid Cymru in Westminster should not collaborate with pro remain Tories.

Plaid’s strategy is somewhat bizarre given that poll after poll suggests that significant numbers of Plaid Cymru voters voted to leave. Plaid’s cognitive dissonance over the EU’s silence in the face of Spanish repression of their Catalan allies is a sight to behold, and they similarly stubbornly refuse to engage with those who point to the treatment of the peripheral states by the EU- clear evidence that the same fate would undoubtedly await an independent Wales within the EU.

The arrogance of this response by Wales’ two tokenly left parties is typical of the Welsh political class, unused as they are to any scrutiny or accountability or to having to answer to their constituents. This is a group of people who have been perfectly happy to accept the steady decline in democracy in Wales as long as they keep getting returned by default.

What is to be done?

Earlier this year, the Brexit Party predictably won the EU elections in Wales, simply because they were given an open goal: they could legitimately claim that a democratic vote is being ignored by a political elite. This came as no shock to anyone other than Wales’ political establishment, which even now, refuses to acknowledge the resilience of the leave vote; the reasons why people voted to leave; or the sheer gravity of how what they are doing- overruling a democratic vote– is perceived by working class people.

They are not interested in solving the issues that drove Brexit, only in returning to ‘stability’ (i.e., the old status quo) as soon as possible .

Whilst we of course need to offer radical redistributive policies to people, democracy is ultimately the most powerful tool we have as socialists. Democracy and socialism should always be intertwined- you cannot have one without the other. To win, socialists have to harness people’s anger at the status quo. If we don’t, then the right will. We must ultimately prioritise and empower the people we profess to speak for, the working class, rather than keep them at arms- length from the decision making process (this undemocratic paternalism is, after all, what killed the welfare state).

The transformative power of democracy has been completely forgotten by many on the left in Wales. This is not surprising. Politics here is something which happens to people, not something we have an effect on ourselves. The idea that we could ever have a say over the issues that impact our lives seems fantastical, because for most of us, our votes have never counted: Labour will win no matter who you vote for on the national level, and we will be governed by who the English vote for regardless.

Over time, the idea of democracy itself has faded from view in Wales, reduced to a banal, unthinking ritual for those people who still bother to vote. Certainly, the enthusiastic defence of ‘EU Democracy’ by many Welsh left remainers- the EU parliament cannot pass legislation- suggests that many people have just accepted that democracy is not that important to a socialist programme, that EU handouts are more important than having a say in the decisions that affect your lives.

Yet the democratic deficit- your voice not mattering- is what drove campaigns for Welsh home rule in the early twentieth century, and later, devolution. It is what is driving the growing, vibrant Welsh independence campaign, and a lack of democracy is why socialists like myself who support Welsh independence are similarly against the EU.

In 2016, people who had stayed away from politics for years exercised their right to vote and influenced the result for the first time in generations. Any left project simply cannot be seen to be overruling this vote, cannot be seen to be on the side of establishment politics.

It is the responsibility of leftists in Wales and beyond to re-emphasize the power of democracy, to make it something that is tangible and possible again to all the communities in Wales. This takes on new urgency and relevance given the democratic crisis that is currently unfolding in Westminster.

Dan Evans is Welsh sociologist and founding signatory of the LeFT Campaign, this article was first published here.

Powers to the Peoples! – John Foster & Vince Mills

John Foster and Vince Mills of Radical Options for Scotland and Europe ROSE argue the return of legislative powers from Brussels to the governments of Scotland, Wales and the English regions could lead a revival of regional economies once State Aid bans imposed under EU competition law are removed

This summer workers in Glasgow’ s Caledonian Rail workshops repaired their last train and walked away. This once mighty centre of Scottish industry closed. After dominating global rail manufacturing for over a century, ‘The Caley’ was cast adrift by rail privatisation, sold on by a series of venture capitalists until the business ended up in the hands of a German holding company, Mutares AG.

Despite pleas from trade unions either to take the railway workshops into public ownership, or provide state aid for worker management, the SNP government claimed it was powerless to act.

The same story can be repeated for dozens of other workplaces in Scotland, Wales and England’s regions. State aid, other than in exceptional circumstances, violates EU competition law. As does public ownership if seen to threaten ‘free competition’ and the rights of private businesses.

Now, however, change appears possible. Withdrawal from the EU provides the opportunity to regain such powers at regional and national level. But this restitution of powers won’t happen automatically. Our Labour movement must fight for powers to be returned to our peoples now.

Theresa May’s ‘Withdrawal Agreement’ incorporated EU prohibitions on democratic intervention in the economy by accepting EU Single Market competition terms. Almost certainly, any EU exit involving trade deals with the United States negotiated by Boris Johnson will do likewise.

Only Jeremy Corbyn has identified the key demand to accept health, environmental and employment rights aspects of the Single Market, but not those restricting democratic control of industry. Corbyn’s spelt this out in his 2018 Coventry speech on regional industrial policy and has
done so repeatedly since.

The link between Brexit and regional (and national) industrial policy is critical. There can be no true revival of the economies of Scotland, Wales and England’s regions without ending bans imposed by EU competition policy. Nor can there be any real power for regional assemblies or the parliamentary institutions of Wales and Scotland unless economic powers are returned.

This is why delegates at this year’s Scottish TUC Congress in Dundee unanimously agreed a resolution from Clydebank Trades Union Council calling on the STUC to lobby the Scottish government to ensure that, as part of an EU withdrawal deal, these powers should return to the Scottish Parliament.

“Return” is important. Because under the terms of the 1998 Scottish Parliament Act all powers not specifically reserved for central government, are vested in Scotland. These include most aspects of industrial policy including public ownership and state aid. If people regionally and locally are to have real power to change lives, these powers must be returned.

So also, must powers to invest in infrastructure, save declining industries and invest in new ones. Labour’s spending plans would transform the Scottish economy, principally through a proposed National Investment Bank. A two term Labour Government would see an additional investment of a transformative £70 billion in Scotland. EU State Aid rules, however, call into question whether the proposed NIB could even be set up in the first place.

This return of powers is critical for democratic renewal in Britain and particularly for progressive federalism defined, as it has been in Scotland, by the Red Paper Collective and Pauline Bryan.

It is progressive because it is designed to change the balance of power between capital and labour giving people the power to exercise democratic control over regional and national economies, combined with a strong central parliament at British level that can challenge the power of big business and ensure more equitable distribution of wealth between Britain’s component nations and regions.

In Scotland this campaign is currently the focus of ROSE (Radical Options for Scotland and Europe). ROSE was established in 2016 and has affiliations from a majority of Scotland’s trades union councils and several major trade unions. Its object has been to bring together both Leave and Remain supporters to campaign for an EU withdrawal on democratic terms that serve the needs of working people.

This month ROSE campaigners have been out on the streets of Scotland with a petition to the Scottish parliament putting the demand s of Clydebank’s STUC resolution. People readily understand the need for powers to halt the loss of jobs and the need to regenerate regional and
national economies.

This is why ROSE also agreed at its aggregate meeting this month to support the work of Leave-Fight-Transform: the LeFT Campaign calling for a Left withdrawal from the EU. On it depends the future of our democracy.

John Foster and Vince Mills are joint secretaries of Radical Options for Scotland and Europe (ROSE)

Labour’s Brexit slide – Martin Hall

As Boris Johnson and the Tories cling to power, many people could be forgiven for wondering what is going on in the Labour Party. Having rightly had a stated policy of prioritising a general election these last two years, it has now turned down the chance to have one twice in under a week. Furthermore, its stated reason for doing so the first time – the need to ensure the bill forcing the government to seek a further extension of Article 50 and prevent no deal passed – had evaporated by the time it refused an election on Monday night.

Why is this?

There is no answer to this question that makes any sense other than seeing this as an another retreat, as evidence of the tack rightwards, and of the balance of forces pushing Labour away from being anything resembling an insurgent movement and back to being a party of moderation and accommodation.

What we are seeing then in Labour is a further shifting in the balance of power within the party towards those forces that are against both the left and honouring the 2016 EU referendum. Labour went into the 2017 general election with a policy of enacting a People’s Brexit. By the end of that summer, this had started to slide, first via an announcement that a transitional deal would be sought, followed by the phrase ‘People’s Brexit’ leaving the Labour lexicon, to be replaced by a ‘jobs-first Brexit’, then the fudge agreed at conference in 2018. Since then, after huge pressure from the pro-remain (and anti-Corbyn) majority, this has become a policy of putting any deal that a Labour government could get back to the people with remain on the ballot. There has even been talk this week of potentially putting May’s deal, with a tweak or two, up against remain. While Jeremy Corbyn’s speech at the TUC today was welcome in its criticism of what the Tories plan to do after Brexit, as was his emphasis on class, trade unionism and Labour’s plan to extend workers’ rights, he did also confirm a referendum on a deal vs remain as Labour’s policy.

This slide has had other pit stops along the way, but that is a general summary of what has happened. While there are many socialists who support remain and a radical, transformative government under Jeremy Corbyn, it is not them who are calling the shots. Labour has got itself into an alliance with the Lib Dems, the SNP, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and a rump of rebel Tories. The effect of such alliances is to subordinate the left’s needs to those of capital, and that is exactly what is happening here. Witness the relative praise coming out of the serious capitalist press this last week or two. Of course, the vast majority of capital wants to remain, and would cope with a defanged Labour government far more than a no deal Brexit.

Last night in parliament, endless voices from the so-called ‘rebel alliance’ were asking for a second referendum having just refused a general election. The Lib Dems were talking about revoking Article 50 while calling for political change. Labour’s current position is politically incoherent and, we should suspect, can’t hold. No party can expect to be taken seriously going into a general election saying they will allow their own front bench to campaign against their own negotiated deal. Moreover, when Kier Starmer sits down in Brussels, those across the table from him will know that he will himself campaign against what he is trying to achieve. That is a negotiating position that makes Syriza’s in 2015 look like a card sharp holding a Royal Flush. Therefore, the logical conclusion of this drift is to go full remain and simply go into the election promising to hold another referendum.

In the context of a Tory party presenting itself as anti-establishment and for the people against an obstructive, rump parliament, a left movement of insurgency and transformation at a time of great crisis cannot hope to resolve that crisis in its favour by returning to its position as the second party of capital. That is what the establishment has wanted since 2016. At times when the Tories cannot function as the first party of capital, in this case because it cannot resolve the contradictions that Brexit has caused for it, the ruling class looks to a right social democratic Labour party to maintain its interests. Jeremy Corbyn in the leader’s chair had put paid to that. They couldn’t unseat him in 2016. Manufactured crises have had little effect on the polls. Therefore the tactic has been to push the party over time towards positions that stymie the ability of a Labour government to affect radical change. This has led to a situation where John McDonnell is saying that Labour is putting ‘country above party’. What this really means is country above class. There is no national interest. There are our interests, and there are theirs.

Despite all this, sections of the Labour left are acting like the leadership are playing an intricate game of chess. Wishful thinking and hopes and dreams will get us nowhere. Politics is concrete, and based on material reality and the balance of forces. There must now be the greatest pressure put upon Labour to go into the election promising to campaign for a deal that will benefit the working class and allow it to implement a radical programme free from EU rules and regulations. The confrontation with British capital and the establishment will be tough enough, without also having to take on the EU in legislative and judicial terms.

LeFT says this to the labour movement:

If you want a radical, transformative government, whatever your views on Brexit, it cannot be achieved by siding with people who’ve spent the last four years trying to destroy the growing left in the UK.

They don’t want what we want.

They will attempt to subordinate our politics to theirs. This is already happening.

As soon as the election comes, they will tack even more rightwards.

Labour need to distance themselves now and go into the coming election arguing for a Brexit in the interests of working people. Only by doing that can it free up space to talk about everything else.

David Jamieson – After the Tory Cannibal

Since the coronation of Boris Johnson, the British state crisis has reached a new peak. This has revealed all the morbid symptoms of the systemr that socialists have, for years, insisted lies behind Brexit. The conspiracy theory of a Machiavellian elite faction bent on ‘disaster capitalism’ has lost credibility (among those paying attention) with every dire turn in the Brexit story.

The repeated defeats of Theresa May should have put paid to this tired concept. The rise of Boris Johnson and his senior adviser Dominic Cummings gave it new life.

Many on the left are so traumatised by decades of defeat that they view every blunder of the rich as a power-play. Every squalid manoeuvre and failed initiative to emerge from Downing Street in recent days has been heralded as part of a long game that doesn’t exist.

The undead conspiracy theory took another bound into irrationality with the notion that Johnson’s threat to prorogue the parliament represented a ‘coup’. This misunderstood both the class character of the British state and the position of weakness currently occupied by the ruling class, including the ramshackle faction around Johnson.

The commitment to prorogue parliament did not indicate the overturning of the constitutional form of the British state. What it did indicate was both the elevation of that constitution to its natural anti-democratic height, and simultaneously its point of essential dysfunction.

The British constitution could be thrown together so haphazardly through the formative history of British capitalism because the state could rely on a hegemonic party – the Conservative party.

That party has been able, in every generation (with a few key Labour interventions), to construct a bloc sufficient to rule British capitalism through the travails of the international system and internal class tension.

What we are witnessing is an historic moment in the collapse of that party’s cohesion and therefore of the whole functioning of British politics.

The diverging strategic orientations which have presented themselves to the Corbyn project and wider left throughout its development are now presented again in the most blatant terms; is the left’s mission to stave-off the crisis and restore order to a battered system, or to ride the tiger of the crisis and assert a radical programme that favours the working class?

There are worrying indications in this regard. The business press is warming to Labour, and this was preceded by a more co-operative tone from John McDonnell towards the City, and promises to secure the independence of the Bank of England.

In a fit of self-delusion, some on the left are telling themselves and anyone who will listen that the Overton window is shifting, a new Bretton-Woods settlement is in the ascendancy, and the radical left is hegemonising the centre via a ‘Popular Front’ – or some other flippant nonsense, armed with the lowest kind of historical analogy.

The more accurate description of these dynamics is the most obvious; it is the left that is being incrementally hegemonised by the centre.

Right now British capitalism is like a man falling down the stairs. With the Tory party no longer by his side, he lashes out a hand to grab something, anything, to break his fall.

If what he finds is the Corbyn project and wider layers of leftwing opinion, then the radical potential of those forces will be rapidly spent.

What then follows in the wake of the Conservative party’s decline is not a radical social alternative, but a reactionary alternative.

Corbynism must attack the political system with a demand for a general election which will be a referendum on the entire social order. Socialists must tell the country in plain English that the current state of affairs cannot continue and that sweeping change on every front is urgently required. The politics of the defence of institutions, from the parliament to the City to the EU, will result in certain failure.

David Jamieson is a writer, socialist, editor @ConterScot and @TheCommonSpace and a signatory of the LeFT Campaign’s Founding Statement. This article was first published on Conter.

Picture: Francisco Goya – Antropos

Ray Morell – From No Deal to A Green New Deal

As the world economy slides towards recession, tension with existing international trade arrangements grow and the economic order that has led to the downgrading and downsizing of jobs is looking increasingly shaky. These changes at a global level combined with the vote to leave the EU all point to a recomposition of the global economic order as we know it This presents positive opportunities for workers and environmentalists.

Globalisation has led to unsustainable increases in global carbon emissions which were 67% higher in 2013 than 1990. These massive increases in emissions map directly to the growth of the integrated trading networks over this period. Unless we change the way society produces and trades goods we are going to experience runaway climate change. The challenge for the radical left is to make sure this current crisis leads to change that starts to reverse the growing carbon emissions and benefits working class communities.

In this emerging situation there will be an enhanced role for the nation state. It will no longer be good enough for politicians to fob off working class communities with the idea that globalisation is an unstoppable force of nature against which they are powerless to act. A greater possibility could exist for the powers of the state to be used to retain and direct jobs to social and green ends. The idea that inequality, industrial decay, runaway climate change and stagnant living standards are something we have to suck up won’t wash any more. But if the left doesn’t challenge the status quo then people will increasingly look to the radical solutions of the right.

The vote to leave the EU must be seen in this context of deep seated problems for the world economic order. The left needs to urgently develop an agenda that aims to put the climate and working class communities front and centre with the environment, jobs, migrant rights and workers’ rights to the fore.

No Deal

Whatever your perspective on leaving the EU, the left needs to work out how it deals with a no-deal Brexit. The looming prospect of no-deal provides both threats and opportunities for the labour movement. On trade, migration, fiscal policy and the integrity of the United Kingdom itself, no deal could have profound consequences. We need to establish what this will mean for the labour movement and prepare accordingly. The LeFT campaign wants to help develop alternative solutions for each of these issues and we will highlight how the labour movement can try and take the initiative as Britain leaves the EU.

One of the major issues with a no deal scenario will be the increased uncertainty of life and work in Britain. No transition period means that working people will have to respond immediately to changes resulting from leaving the EU. There is no clarity, or precedent for what happens next and whatever occurs will definitely not be predetermined. It will ultimately be decided by the pressure of contending forces. In LeFT, we believe the labour movement can make a decisive impact on the outcome to jobs that a no deal scenario presents.

One of the key areas is the situation faced by union members whose jobs are currently threatened by the breakdown in global supply chains. The automotive, aerospace and shipbuilding sectors alongside their supply chains will be massively affected by any no deal Brexit. In the automotive sector, investment crashed more than 70 per cent to just £90m in the first six months of 2019. Additionally, UK car production fell by 20 per cent during the first half of the year, with June being the thirteenth consecutive month production has declined. The automotive sector is already in crisis with or without a Brexit deal.

At the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port about 1000 jobs are being threatened by the employers. The French owners, PSA have said that they will use alternative plants in Europe in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

At Honda, the owners have announced plans to wind down the plant with Brexit cited as one of the reasons for ending 30 years of production at Swindon. Honda’s decision to close its only UK factory will devastate the workforce and the entire community. If the closure isn’t stopped 3,500 jobs at the plant will be lost with a further 12,000 or more across the supply chain and region at risk.  So far the campaign to prevent the closure hasn’t yet created enough pressure to reverse this decision.

At BMW in Oxford, plans are afoot to build the electric model of the Mini at the Cowley plant which employs about 4,500 people. However, production is tightly integrated with wheels produced in plants in Southern Germany. Threats are already being made to shift production to the Netherlands in the event of a no deal Brexit. Finding a solution that saves the jobs at Cowley will mean breaking with the neoliberal status quo. If EU rules make the existing production arrangements prohibitive then we should assemble all the components here. If BMW decide to move the plant then we should campaign for the plant to be renationalised.

Throughout Britain, 850,000 workers depend on the automotive sector. These jobs bring skills, wages and the promise of future skilled work to communities across Britain. We have to fight for a future for each and every job. But maintaining skilled, well paid employment on this scale will need new thinking and a strategy that directly confronts the EU and neoliberal capital.

Breaking the Impasse

The Harland and Wolff (H&W) shipyard brings into focus both the problems and potential solutions for manufacturing workers faced with closure. There has been a long term decline at the yard—from a peak of 35,000 workers there are now 130 workers fighting to save their jobs.

The men and women, who are members of Unite and the GMB, can’t afford to look back to the days of mighty ocean liners and battleships for their future. Instead, they have evaluated the productive assets of the yards and plan to use them as part of the necessary industrial capacity that can begin to turn the tide against climate change.

They have combined their technical skills with their knowledge of the H&W facilities and a vision of how they can fabricate the wave, wind and tidal units that can harness the vast renewable resources that can provide clean, affordable and abundant energy.

However, Boris Johnson’s Tory government and their DUP lackeys, some of whom are constituency MP’s for the workers in the shipyard, are opposed to the occupation and the workers plans for survival. They have refused to nationalise the yard which is in occupation. At the time of writing, the workers have won a guarantee that their jobs and skills will be protected. The occupation continues to make sure that promises of job security are realised. The current occupation at H&W is a critical example of workers fighting for their jobs and a new set of priorities. The occupation tactic raises the stakes with workers holding ‘hostage’ the yards assets allowing them to dictate the terms of any outcome from a position of real power which is already yielding results.

The example of H&W highlights the necessity of saving these manufacturing jobs with a strategy for conversion to energy renewables. However, the struggle in Belfast also shows how we need to break with the failed priorities of the neoliberal agenda with a radical struggle against the employers, the Tories and their priorities that continue to fail ordinary workers and the need to combat climate change.

Where plant, jobs and communities are threatened in manufacturing with no deal and the break-down of global supply chains there should be no reason why these plants can’t be nationalised.  If we allow them to close they will be gone forever. Today we see the possibilities for real change. The Scottish government has recently added to an original £45 million investment by taking steps to nationalise the threatened Clyde Ferguson Marine shipyard which it sees as a vital industrial asset. Ferguson is the only yard in the world with the technology to build hydrogen powered vessels that are free of carbon emissions. So, saving Ferguson Marine becomes a priority not just for the 350 permanent and 60 agency jobs – as well as the local community- but for their state-owned assets to become world leaders in the development of alternative technologies that can help us cut carbon emissions.

On the left, it’s understood that nationalising assets for the ‘public good’ is forbidden under EU competition and state aid rules. So what’s going on?

The EU allows for temporary ’emergency’ nationalisations, or where there is no private firm willing to bid for a service (like East Coast Main Line). What is forbidden, partly under the competition laws, is ‘ideological’ nationalisation on the grounds of public interest. In this case, the Scottish Government was already the main creditor of the private business. According to the SNP Cabinet Secretary for Finance, David MacKay, EU state aid rules meant that the Scottish Government could not simply bail-out the private company – as this would be to show preference for it on an arbitrary basis. So the Scottish government’s ability to nationalise the yards depended on the fact that most of the private yard’s business was coming from the Scottish Government. However, EU state aid rules could make it difficult for the yard to compete for future contracts.

So, in these unique circumstances where private capital isn’t ‘threatened’ by the takeover, EU rules will permit government intervention. Clearly, different rules will apply to any radical government looking to renationalise utilities or transport infrastructure.

While union reps will continue to do all they can to save existing jobs, we can see how the employers’ priorities aren’t the same as ours and we need to develop alternative strategies to protect our jobs and fight for our own interests. If we are to drive electric cars in Britain, then we should build them in Ellesmere Port, Swindon and Cowley. At H&W, the yard should be nationalised and reps’ plans to build renewables should be developed in partnership with workplace committees.

In the LeFT campaign we want to work with others to build a movement in workplaces and communities that campaigns for threatened plants to be nationalised with plans developed to retrain and retool workers, plant and machinery. This approach could protect jobs while allowing them to be incorporated into strategies that will make the Green New Deal a reality today. The LeFT campaign wants to see the immediate repeal of all anti-trade union legislation and the beginning of an urgent debate on how best we increase working class democracy with workplace committees having direct involvement in the governance of nationalised assets under public ownership and controlled by working class people.

What Next?

The election of Johnson means the stakes are high for all sides. The ruling elite are split about the Tory leadership and Brexit; however, there is also a sense of paralysis on the left. A radical challenge must come from outside of the establishment to break the impasse. The question facing the movement, no matter how difficult it may seem is to try and work out how we resolve the political crisis in favour of the working class and the labour movement.  The prospect of a potential Corbyn government without the constraints of the EU is a nightmare scenario for the British ruling class. Yet, the Corbyn project is coming under increasing pressure to adopt a Remain position and support a second referendum. Instead of moving towards Remain, Labour should be supporting workers fighting job cuts and closures today while highlighting how any potential Labour administration would protect workers from the likely impact of Brexit – deal or no deal.

As a general election looks increasingly likely, the LeFT campaign wants to work with others in the labour movement to help prepare the working class movement to take advantage of the new situation and freedom of action a future Labour government would have outside of the EU. It’s time we gathered our strength and took advantage of the weakness of the establishment. The fight to turn any no deal Brexit into a Tory nightmare should begin with building solidarity with the workers occupation at H&W who are demanding that it’s nationalised.

Messages of support to H&W workers can be sent to Susan.fitzgerald@unitetheunion.org

Ray Morell is a Unite Rep in the Aerospace and Shipbuilding sector.