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Socialist Democracy Statement on the Brexit vote

End of Days for the old order

29 June 2016

One question asked immediately after the Brexit referendum was why it should not be run again. After all, the Irish were sent back to vote again on European referenda when they produced the wrong answer.

But in Ireland  outbursts of anti-imperialist sentiment among the workers has little echo among the political parties. In Britain reactionary racism, the interests of the small proprietor and nostalgic imperialism fuels ultra-right movements inside and outside the Tory party. Rather than a failure of judgement by PM Cameron, this was the final act in a long-simmering war that stretches back before Thatcher and has finally burst though all the barriers meant to confine it.

As with all referenda  it will be up to the British government, representing British capital, to pick and choose among the elements available to define a new relationship with Europe. That relationship will not be the illusory independence proclaimed by the Brexiteers. Their own lies, lack of unity and absence of a coherent programme will prevent this.

However the outcome cannot disguise an eye-watering shift to the right. Whatever is said, the vote was based on anti-migrant sentiment and the aftermath will see new levels of racism.

The way in which the fascist murder of Labour MP Jo Cox was brushed off was an indication of the confidence of the reactionaries and the willingness of state and media to conciliate them. UKIP leader Nigel Farage later said that the campaign was won "without a shot being fired". 

The new Tory leadership will move the party light years to the right of Margaret Thatcher. Alongside a growing racism and the scrapping of human rights will come further welfare cuts, attacks on disability rights, hammering of workplace and wage protection. The aim of the Tory right will be the construction of a low wage sweatshop economy.

A wave of reaction

The wave of reaction reaches deep into Europe. Unending austerity has reached a limit and brought revolt, but trade union and Social Democratic organizations have clung desperately to reviving capitalism. Now the torch of revolt is in the hands of racists and reactionaries.

Many see a chink of light in the remain vote in Scotland. Yet the leadership of the Scottish movement is in the hands of the capitalist SNP. While they lack the repulsive smell of the empire loyalists of the British right, it is illusory to image that their manoeuvring would serve the workers or indeed that any expression of loyalty to Europe would lead to any reciprocal support or mercy from European capital.

The remain vote in the North of Ireland led Sinn Fein to call for a border poll. The result was a demonstration of their haplessness, as both the DUP and the British rejected the call immediately. However Brexit will accelerate the decay in the Irish peace process as recession hits and European bribes dry up. The extent to which the peace process is held up by a network of grants is wildly underestimated. 

Above all Brexit will accelerate the collapse of Sinn Fein. The return of physical border posts between North and South would leave even the most loyal of their supporters questioning the leadership.

The crisis underlines the subordination of Irish capital to imperialism. Inflated claims are made of finance capital relocating to Dublin, but early indications are of movement to Paris. Speaking English and an eagerness to please is a poor substitute for a fully developed electronic infrastructure. 

Trade with Britain is set at 16% of GDP, but this is aircraft carrier Ireland, whose economy is dominated by transnational capital. In the ramshackle native economy trade with Britain stands at 40% of GNP and new tariffs would prove crippling. 

In any case Irish capitalist rule, highly unstable after years of austerity, again faces crisis and recession. The return of a physical border will indicate the illusory nature of the peace settlement and increase that instability.

Ever closer union?
The most significant outcome of the Brexit vote is the death knell of the European project. "Ever closer union" held out an insubstantial vision of a united European superstate guaranteeing prosperity, where a universal legal system would underpin both workers rights and human rights in general.

In reality Europe has never advanced beyond a jumble of national states, with the core dominating the periphery.

Trade union leaders have clung desperately to the idea that capitalist modernisation will advance workers rights and have burrowed into endless commissions. Meanwhile Europe has advanced an unrelenting diet of austerity, privatisation and deregulation. 

The European powers have lined up behind the US to bring carnage to Afghanistan, Africa and the Middle East. When the result of their policies is the arrival of desperate refugees, Europe reacts with racist barbarism. The refugees die at sea, rot in camps and are handed over to the tender mercies of the Turkish regime. The leading charity Médecins Sans Frontières refused European funding as the very concepts of human rights and refugee status were torn up before their eyes.

Barbarism is not limited to refugees. Sections of the Greek working class are reduced to the point of famine to demonstrate to European workers that there is no alternative to paying the bondholders.

Now Brexit spells the death knell. A weak European economy faces instability and crisis. The idea that capital will unite to bring a return of prosperity seems laughable and hordes of right wing goons across the continent get ready to follow the British example and carve out their own miniature empires from the rubble. European capital can hold the right at bay for now, but can no longer advance an overarching vision of progress.

Labour division

However today's crisis is not only a crisis of capital. The mirroring of the Tory leadership battle inside the Labour party tells us that. The Tory battle reflects different interests within capital. What is the division within Labour?

The Labour right, long partners in Britainís imperial project, are somewhat shy of displaying their programme, reduced to a disgusting litany of personal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn. "He's no leader" scream those who fawned behind the great leader Tony Blair.  Corbyn refused to lead them in adulation of the European project and refused to capitulate to the demonization of refugees through the racist claims of taking British jobs and being the cause of housing and public service shortages.

Whatever happens a long chapter in British labour history is over. Even if the right win they will be unable to attract mass support for a programme of collaboration with liberal capitalism.

It should also be said that the various socialist currents were tested by the referendum and failed the test. Only the blind could be unaware of the class forces at work. The Lexit argument was one of magical thinking - a belief that a crisis for capital is automatically good for workers and that a workers movement can be built without workers being conscious of their class interests. Nor were these failings a temporary aberration.  They were fuelled by opportunism, by a constant dance to the right and by a tail-ending reformism.

It is suggested that we avoid back-biting and all unite to "fight the cuts." However, as the Labour right have demonstrated, it is actually a time for drawing lines in the sand. When the dust settles there will be a new labour movement and the socialists will have to demonstrate that they can play a useful role in it.

Socialist role

The struggle will be initially fought around the Labour leadership battle. Socialists should provide some basic guidelines:

Unconditional support for migrants and refugees. As with all other workers they represent a vast well of untapped creativity. The failure here is the failure of capitalism. We should not sacrifice ourselves to capitalism's inability to turn a profit or accept a scapegoat designed to tear the workers' movement apart.

Zero support for a capitalist Europe. The claims of European process are a myth. The fate of Greece, of refugees, troops gathering on Russia's borders and of endless foreign wars tells us all we need to know.

For a United Socialist States of Europe! This slogan is of fundamental importance. As the old capitalist order breaks up the workers must assert an independent programme or become victims of the various factions.

There is much to play for. The Blairites have been flushed out, but it has passed notice that many of Corbyn's "left" trade union backers actually support elements of the Blairite programme. Len McCluskey of UNITE has strongly supported the migration restrictions advocated by the right.

A defence of Corbyn does not mean support for his calls for unity. The traitors must go and a new party be built. No matter what the to and fro of capitalist battles, even further austerity is on the way and the workers must fight. They will be led by the youth who overwhelmingly rejected Brexit and who immediately become the target in escalating class war.

The battle of Britain will be fought across Europe. It falls to us all to build our own national movement and the transnational movement that will bring the European workers centre stage. 

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