Friday, 11 January 2019

Brexit is not the central issue for leftists, socialist opportunities are

As the the parliamentary Brexit vote approaches, and its implications unfold, people on the left should be reflecting carefully on what kind of political projects truly matter.

And they should understand that, whatever the outcome and ramifications, Brexit is not the critical issue we've been conditioned into believing. Instead, meaningful socialist change, and any serious openings towards it, should be the key focus of leftist attentions.

Many left-liberal Remainers insist that they are only interested in protecting the poorest of society, workers' rights and the status of migrants. But they should really be asking whether a deeply-neoliberal, business-protecting, fortress-minded EU has ever shown any genuine interest in advancing the lot of the poor, workers or immigrants.

Beyond nominal liberal sensibilities, one suspects here a more insular set of middle class Brexit concerns, rather than serious class empathy: for example, how exiting the EU might inconvenience middle class education, travel, and rights of abode in Europe, concerns not immediately exercising a mass part of the population simply struggling to get by.

A recent UN report has revealed the scandalous extent of multiple deprivation in the UK. Foodbanks abound. Homeless souls lie cold and withering on our streets. One in eight people in work are now living in poverty. Government austerity is now responsible for over 120,000 excess deaths. And, as the brilliant I Daniel Blake film has so accurately shown - despite ugly Tory dismissals - many thousands of people are dying after being hounded by a cruel and callous 'benefits' system.

This is the face of brutal Britain, generations of wicked neglect, capitalist ordained, both Tory and Labour inflicted.

But this misery also prevails despite the supposed 'protections' of the EU. For all its 'social guarantees', the EU acts primarily at the behest of a banker class intent on prohibiting the very state-led economic interventions required to break structural poverty and inequality.

Just look at the rocketing death rate and other grim statistics for Greece, where the EU has imposed its harsh austerity 'medicine' just as ruthlessly as the UK, if not more so. Look also at the painful experiences of Spain, Ireland, Portugal and other 'errant' states which felt the EU's wrath for trying to deviate from its punitive neoliberal rules.

As Yanis Varoufakis, a political victim of Greece's 'transgression', so acutely understands, this is a doctrine that the EU's technocracy and banker class will brook no discussion with.

And, despite Varoufakis's own DiEM 25 stay-and-reform agenda, there appears no plausible prospect of turning this institutional autocracy around. Even sympathetic voices for a new pan-European left now harbour "serious doubts about the extent to which such a system of supranational democracy could be made truly representative and respectful of the needs of the weaker states of the Union."

There's also a fundamental difference between 'improved' EU parliamentary representation and true popular control, given the even greater potential for elite lobbies and "oligarchic capture" of the parliamentary process at the supranational level.

With extremely limited prospects for any progressive overhaul of the EU monolith, why would already impoverished and marginalised people in Britain rally to such a detached, elitist and uncaring Union?

With hopes of real alternative policies, it is long-standing hostility to this rigid EU orthodoxy that's exercising Jeremy Corbyn. It also informs his legitimate reticence over any second EU referendum, something that won't resolve public division, would only alienate much of his base, and, despite heightened liberal media claims to the contrary, augurs no good electoral benefit for Corbyn and the left. 

In supportive spirit, leftists should be primarily concerned with projects and movements which show real progressive worth. The EU isn't remotely in that category. We're living in an age of rapid climate calamity, rampant militarism, mass death and human dislocation from Western-made wars, and stratospheric wealth for the greedy few, all driven by psychopathic corporate interests. These are the big issues, the vital forces to be resisted, domestically and globally. Against this emergency backdrop, liberal protesters wrapped in EU flags is really a descent into the absurd, a kind of Brexit bathos.

The mass political hype and media frenzy over Brexit should be a clue in itself as to the elite narrative we're being fed. From big City bankers to Blair and his co-war criminals, an entire establishment and its liberal managers are now on emergency footing trying to reverse an outcome they smugly assumed could never happen. 

In desperate mitigation, much of the Guardian commentariat are also crying foul over Vote Leave's campaign shenanigans. Yet, much less is being said by the Guardian class about the corporate elites and political associates behind 'People's Vote'. As the Morning Star reveals, this exclusive, big business-led cash-cow is not only determined to stop Brexit, but any prospect of a socialist government.

Meanwhile, British deep-state-funded groups Integrity Initiative and Institute of Statecraft are conducting a systematic smear campaign, reminiscent of A Very British Coup, against Corbyn and the official opposition, again with barely a word from the 'mainstream' media.   

If the stakes are high here for the corporate and political establishment, it also shows how important critical questioning of its deeper Remain agenda must be.

Membership of an unaccountable and privileged EU club is no 'hill to die on' for leftists. Indeed, the vote for Brexit - in large part an instinctive backlash against system-safe liberals, the same liberal crisis that's delivered Trump - should be viewed as a useful upheaval, a welcome impasse, and set of opportunities for real radical change.

Instead of Remain and a top-down EU, two real political causes are worthy of our foremost attention and support: independence for Scotland, and a Corbyn victory at Westminster. And, yes, we most certainly can have both.

People on the left should be focused on the need for a radical independent Scotland, and a Corbyn-left government for the rest of the UK. That's a realisable set of progressive outcomes worth pushing for, rather than any constitutional-stifling or market-first unions. 

Those liberal centrists calling for a second EU referendum - spun in specious Blairite fashion as a 'People's Vote' - have no true interest in either of those socialist projects. For them, Corbyn and Scottish indy are dire threats to the same UK-EU neoliberal, liberal-protecting status quo.

A seething cabal of parliamentary pro-EU Labourites are still determined to bring Corbyn down. A similar ragtag of Labourite centrists in Scotland have also been playing the Remain card to shrill effect, warning that the electorate 'just couldn't face' another indy ref - but could, of course, handle another on the EU. In short, Brexit is being pitched as 'the crisis of our age', and used as a political diversion to contain real leftist change.

Alas, an SNP hierarchy seem to be acting in effective unison. If the SNP leadership actually want independence, they really should be talking about it, instead of spending so much time agonising over Brexit - as well as lauding Nato and bashing Russia - in apparent collusion with the establishment, Unionist order.

Nicola Sturgeon has now intimated that a decision on indy ref 2 may be pending, once the Westminster fallout from Brexit is finally clearer. This may yet prove to be smart political holding. But, in its Brexit obsession, the SNP has lost much valuable time and energy in failing to prioritise and advance the indy case, risking alienating a mass and growing Yes street in the process. 

Many Remainers are naturally repulsed by the array of shire Tories, narrow British nationalists and plain xenophobes among Leave. The 62 per cent Remain vote in Scotland is clearly a legitimate refutation of that mindset. A younger demographic also, understandably, incline towards notions of a 'more open European identity'.

Leave does, of course, have its far-right and reactionary elements, brooding over immigration and 'foreigner rule'. But this shouldn't blind progressive-thinking people, at large, to the much deeper discontent afoot, the right to question all elite rule, and the need for citizens to take greater control over their own affairs.

We face a propaganda system that works to limit our very political horizons, to manage the boundaries of discussion, in this case by crafting the very narrative of Brexit as, essentially, 'our collective problem', rather than an internecine establishment conflict.

The parameters of that 'debate', thus, become narrow 'choices' about 'who we trade with', or whether we adopt 'EU or WTO rules'. Note the persistent use here of 'we'. It's a false context. In effect, these are all neoliberal rules, all from the same elite playbook, all to be resisted whether 'we're' inside or outside the EU.

Instead of their rules, we need to build our own equitable rules, ones that place greater value on democratic participation, economic justice and fair, sustainable trade.

That would include a truly compassionate set of immigration and asylum policies, not least in recognition of the plunder, war and suffering visited on the world by an imperialist British state, past and present. We need no more Empires, British, European or other.

We should also be resistant, in this regard, to rising EU militarism. Invoking Putin and 'looming Russian threats to our borders', leading EU figure Guy Verhofstadt has now been joined by Macron and Merkel in calling for a European Army, disturbing ultra-liberal, drum-beating for more threatening Nato escalations across Eastern Europe.

The real question here is about how people take meaningful command of decisions in their own situations; positions and aims that are not founded on corporate rules, fortress mentalities and market imperatives.

That, in essence, means bringing political decision-making down to the most 'localised' levels possible, not obediently handing them up to supranational entities underwritten by corporate sovereignty.

It means securing safe distance from an EU that's now economically unyielding, politically autocratic and worryingly militaristic. That doesn't negate our exposure to wider neoliberal, corporate and oppressive forces. But it certainly suggests a more progressive and promising direction of travel.



ceemac666 said...

Well said John.
From way back......

Rhisiart Gwilym said...

Well said, John! We have to keep hoping and working. Certainly the distress of millions of Brit plebs is helping to up the pressure for major change. We have to aim to raise that up and offer it direction for actually-useful change. Scarcity-socialism is still very much a real possibility in Britain - and is indeed the only viable, credible alternative for the public to embrace, other than the neo-feudalism/freelance gangster-capitalism that the crypto-fascist clowns typified by the IfS/II rackets are attempting to create.

That's the real, practical fight that faces the Brits in the immediate future: do we hold on to our social gains - even if necessarily pared-down because of the now-unavoidable global strictures of the - already-begun - Long Descent; or do we let the ludicrous fascist blimps of the remnantary English-raj class try to inflict their Greek-Colonels-level boyscout fascism on us, via A Very British Coup?

Keep sluggin' with your excellent clear-seeing, John!

John Hilley said...

Thanks for your supportive comments, ceemac and Rhis.

Trevor Hoyle said...

Articulates superbly my own discussions with friends in trying to explain why I voted to leave. Their first reaction is open-mouthed shock and disbelief, followed by remarks that I must be anti-immigrant and antagonistic to the rest of Europe. They can't see past those two motives as there being any other conceivable reasons for leaving. Thank you for the lucid and cogently argued article. I shall rely on it in future exchanges.

John Hilley said...

Thanks, Trevor. I'm pleased it was of some help.