The SWP, one of a number of pro-Brexit sects, makes the following claim:
A year ago Socialist Worker welcomed the result of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU). Were we right to do so?
We argued that the vote would force out David Cameron and destabilise the Tory Party. We said this could lead to a general election victory that would give Jeremy Corbyn an opportunity to lead Labour to victory.
This is what they they actually said
The SWP does not have a crystal ball. Nor does anyone else. No-one predicted the outcome of the general election. What the SWP and other sects offered was not hard analysis but a predictable mantra of moralism:
It is time to step up the assault on the Establishment… We have to shape how the crisis unfolds… We must ensure anti-austerity and anti-racist forces emerge stronger – and that the Right is defeated… Social change never comes without turmoil. We have to seize the time.
The Corbyn surge was no more on the SWP’s radar than anyone else’s. Here, again, is what they said:
Corbyn’s opponents want Labour to shift sharply rightwards. Most Labour MPs never accepted Corbyn as leader. The only issue was when to strike him down… Everyone on the Left needs to back Corbyn against the Right. But he will not survive unless he mobilises outside Parliament – and the Labour Party. It is time for an open fight, not reconciliation.
That was also my view. And that is how it looked to virtually all commentators at the time: Brexit represented a shift to the right; Brexit allowed the Tory Right to seize control of the party; Brexit had deepened the crisis inside the Labour Party, as Corbyn came under pressure to capitulate to the anti-migrant racism of the Leave campaign.
And that’s how it looked for the best part of a year: Corbyn’s days numbered. Let us be clear about how that situation was turned around. The Labour Left leaked the election manifesto before it could be eviscerated by the Labour Right in the backrooms. They then campaigned on this manifesto – the first social-democratic reformist manifesto put to the British people since the 1980s – and Corbyn surged in the polls.
All credit to Corbyn and colleagues: they created a counter-pole of attraction – a counter-pole to the UKIP/Tory Right/Brexit/nationalist-racist pole represented by the May government – and, by doing so, against all expectations, became the catalyst for the emergence of a new mass social movement.
Why is the SWP pretending to have predicted all of this? Because it is trapped in a false perspective by its inability to admit mistakes.
Why can’t it admit mistakes? Because it is a top-down sect intolerant of dissent and debate. It is held together in a cocoon of infallibility. So, when the perspective is confounded by reality – the surge in racism around Brexit that so many of us predicted – the argument has to shift to accommodate the facts. So now the whole Lexit position turns out to be a grand plan to destabilise the Tories and augment the Labour vote.
Only that’s not what happened. The Tories recovered almost immediately and looked so confident less than a year later that May gambled on winning a landslide in a general election. Which is almost certainly what would have happened had the Labour Left not pole-axed the Blairites, foisted a radical manifesto on the party, and then turned the general election into a re-run of the Corbyn leadership campaigns.
As for Lexit, it is more obvious with every day that passes just how poisonous the argument is. Here are the implications:
1] Lexit means we abandon Europeanism and internationalism and support a retreat into Little Englander nationalism laced with anti-migrant racism. Trotsky had something to say about this. I quote him because most of the Lexit sects consider themselves ‘Trotskyist’.
If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forwards as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working-class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to ‘autonomous’ national states, but for the conversion of the imperial state trust into a European republican federation.
He wrote this in the mid 1920s. Europe was a continent of warring states which had just emerged from the first war in which the full power of modern industry had been harnessed to its ancient nationalisms. The result had been 15 million dead. Next time the toll would be 60 million dead.
Quite simply, revolutionaries are anti-Brexit because we are anti-nationalist.
2] Lexit means we abandon our role as ‘tribunes of the oppressed’ and allow the primary expression of anti-migrant ‘take back control’ racism to go unchallenged. We pay no heed to the visceral fear among millions of migrants living in Britain that Brexit is a dagger aimed at them. A justified fear, for the drive to Brexit has been led by the Right, not the Left, and more important to the Brexiteers than issues of sovereignty and trade is control over people, over borders, over migration.
Brexit is code for ‘migrants are the problem’. And – do I need to spell this out? – the central issue for revolutionaries always is the consciousness, confidence, and combativity of the working class. That which divides us, weakens us. That which unites us, strengthens us. Racism divides: internationalism unites.
Revolutionaries oppose racism in all its forms a) because we stand with the oppressed always, b) because we are for internationalism always, and c) because we are for the unity of the working class always. Whereas the Lexiters have driven a wedge between themselves on the one hand and the youth and the oppressed on the other by siding with the Tory Right in defence of Brexit.
3] Lexit means we have nothing coherent to say about the Brexit crisis now unfolding. The only coherent position for the Left to take is this: we are for the free movement of goods, services, and, above all, people; we are for Europeanism and internationalism; we are for the unity of the European and wider working class in the struggle against austerity, privatisation, and corporate power. We are therefore opposed to Brexit.
There is no ‘soft Brexit’, no ‘people’s Brexit’. The EU is about free movement of goods, services, capital, and labour. Britain is either part of that or it is not. The EU is, of course, a bankers’ and bosses’ club hardwired for financialisation and the exploitation of working people in the context of globalisation. But ‘socialism in one country’ is not the alternative. Brexit means a retreat into a nationalist-racist enclave of the kind favoured by fascists.
What part of Brexit does the SWP approve of? Import controls to prevent free movement of goods and services? Capital controls to create a siege economy? Immigration controls to prevent free movement of migrants and refugees? What? What does a ‘progressive’ Brexit look like?
Or is it time to admit a mistake, abandon a false perspective, and join the rest of us in fighting nationalism and racism as part of united European working class?
Neil Faulkner is the author of A Marxist History of the World and A People’s History of the Russian Revolution.
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