Neil Faulkner writes –
It took the Brexit racism of Johnson, Gove, and Farage to make the EU popular. Some 50,000 people wanted to demonstrate on Tuesday night until the organisers caved in to police pressure and called it off. Some thousands still turned up.
Now at least 50,000 have actually demonstrated, marching from Hyde Park to Parliament in a colourful, high-spirited, spontaneous display of Euro-enthusiasm.
The politics were soft and mixed. Some of it was little more than uncritical support for the existing EU setup, and a willingness to cheer dreary liberals like Tim Fallon and Bob Geldof. But that is inevitable if the Left leaves a vacuum – and the Left was almost entirely absent. Other forces – essentially right-wing forces – will fill the space and channel the movement if they can.
But, as in all new movements, the politics were unformed and therefore complex and contradictory. ‘Eton Mess’ was shouted at Downing Street: a class-conscious slogan if ever there was one. Activists offering placards saying ‘Defend Free Movement’ were mobbed by young people wanting to get one. A young nurse carried a homemade placard which read ‘NHS nurses against Brexit lies. The NHS needs EU.’ Twenty-two year old Jess Baker was there saying, ‘We want Britain to be EU-orientated, outward-looking, and inclusive.’
Let’s put this into a wider frame. The Referendum statistics are these. Voting Remain were: 80% of Green voters; 75% of young people; 75% of black people; 70% of Muslims; 65% of Labour voters; and 65% of SNP voters.
I cannot find figures for this, but my guess is that between two-thirds and three-quarters of trade unionists will also have voted Remain. This is based on three things: a) ten top union leaders called for this; b) Labour’s Remain vote implies it; and c) union membership is much higher among skilled public-sector workers than among unskilled private-sector workers, and the figures show 60% in the corresponding ABC1 categories voting Remain, as against 35% in the C2DE categories.
Then we have the more anecdotal evidence from further afield, like the Homerton Hospital surgical team who posted an online photo of themselves with national labels, showing a British (Pakistani) consultant alongside an Irish radiographer, a German consultant anaesthetist, a Greek urologist, and three Spanish scrub nurses.
What is this? It is a popular revolt against racism and nationalism – against the small-minded, backward-looking, victim-bashing bigotry of Tory toffs. It is an assertion of an alternative identity that is multi-cultural and international.
In the immediate context of Brexit, it takes the form of what might be described as an ‘Anglo-European’ identity. But this, given the racism directed against EU migrant workers during the referendum campaign, amounts an essentially progressive political reaction.
At the same time, we are witness to another kind of political surge in response to the New Labour coup to topple the Corbyn leadership. I understand that some 60,000 people have joined the Labour Party since it began, and that at one point a hundred an hour were joining Momentum. We have seen open-air rallies of thousands, and meetings that used to attract a few dozen are sometimes pulling in several hundred.
Despite the embrace of death in which the Parliamentary Labour Party has held Corbyn captive since his election, the political enthusiasm engendered by his challenge to the neoliberal status quo seems undiminished. The Corbynistas, largely absent from the scene for several months, are back.
The coup is, of course, part of the wider political crisis – effectively an implosion of the political system – triggered by the Brexit vote. But it is more than that. The New Labour Right has been deliberately undermining Corbyn’s authority since his election, mounting in effect a slow-motion coup since last summer. And much more than Brexit is at issue.
Heidi Alexander, the Shadow Health Secretary, was the first to resign after Hilary Benn was sacked. She is on record claiming that her position had been ‘undermined’ on health policy by ‘secret meetings’ of an advisory group set up by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell (one of which she gate-crashed).
Talk of ‘secret meetings’ is rich coming from Alexander. She, like most Labour MPs, is a supporter of the secret privatisation of the NHS that has now being going on – behind the backs of the British people, without any democratic mandate, against the wishes of 85% of electorate – for a generation. Only last week she was on the platform at a major NHS privatisation conference attended by cohorts of private health corporates at the Excel Centre. So of course she is not welcome at meetings of socialists called to discuss ways of saving the NHS.
Make no mistake, the struggle raging inside the Labour Party is about whether the entire programme of growing corporate power and the hoovering of wealth to the top to feed the grotesque greed of the 1% is going to continue unimpeded. Corbyn is the socialist cuckoo in the neoliberal nest. They want him out – all of them, the New Labour spivs, the Tories, their media echo-chambers, and the City bankers in the background.
Questions crowd in. Can the anti-Brexit upsurge – spontaneous, formless, lacking political clarity, without much sense of direction, at risk of derailment by neoliberal interests – crystallise into something more solidly anti-racist, anti-corporate, anti-elite? What is the relationship between the anti-Brexit youth and the pro-Corbyn supporters? How should the Left respond to the tidal wave of racism unleashed by the Brexit vote?
One thing is clear: we need to get stuck in. Tens of thousands of people are on the streets calling for free movement and rejecting nationalism. Tens of thousands of others are crowding into meetings to defend a political alternative to austerity and privatisation. The two upsurges are connected. You only have to look at that picture of the Homerton Hospital surgical team.
So I repeat what I said last time. We need mass movements against racism linked with mass movements against austerity and privatisation. Three immediate dates are these:
Neil Faulkner is a revolutionary socialist, a Brick Lane Debates activist, and the author of A Marxist History of the World: from neanderthals to neoliberals.
Left Unity is active in movements and campaigns across the left, working to create an alternative to the main political parties.
Events and protests from around the movement, and local Left Unity meetings.
Sat 29 Sep, 11.00-15.00
Protest at the Conservative Party Conference
To call time on failed austerity and campaign for a new deal for working people.
Victoria Square, Birmingham. More info on Facebook.
European Forum of Progressive Forces, Bilbao
To debate, build and act to ward-off current threats.
Sun 17 Nov, 12.00
National Unity Demonstration Against Fascism and Racism
Central London. More info on Facebook
Sign up to the Left Unity email newsletter.
Get the latest Left Unity resources.