Open War

Open War

On 22 January 2017 Left Unity’s national secretary received a draft for an open letter to Jeremy Corbyn on rights of the Scottish people. On 9 February Left Unity Executive Committee replied. They decided not to write to Corbyn on this matter. The idea was raised at the RISE conference on 4 March. RISE took a similar view and rejected any such letter or a campaign.

The letter was drafted through consultation between three members of RISE and Left Unity with the intention that it would become a joint letter signed by both organisations. At least both anti-Unionist organisations did not fall out. If we cannot unite to do something at least we can to unite doing nothing.

It was an opportunity missed. It is always a good idea to get ahead of the game rather than follow sheepishly along in the wake of battle. A battle royal was surely about the kick off. This week it did when the elected Nicola Sturgeon stole the thunder from the unelected Theresa May by declaring the intention to hold a referendum.

May is fighting for a hard Tory Brexit. The Tories will be screwed if Scotland and Northern Ireland remain in the EU. Scotland, having previously voted to remain in the UK and the EU, cannot now do both. One way to solve this contradiction is force – forcing Scotland out of the EU against its will as expressed in 2016 referendum.

Force starts with imposition and ends in war. The Tories want to block or prevent a consultative referendum. But they are realists. If they can’t stop it they will delay it to a time of their choosing. If they can’t do that, they will mobilise all their forces in the state, the loyalist parties and the media to prevent the end of the UK. It would be an irony if the unintended consequence of Brexit was a new Anglo-Welsh world super power.

Letters are neither here nor there. It is the politics that counts. Open letters are a long established method of political struggle connected to the united front. Left Unity and Rise would jointly declare war on the Tory government and the policy of the Labour Party. But this is only part of the story. The Open Letter is aimed at a united front between Corbyn’s socialist Labour, Left Unity, RISE and Momentum and indeed the rest of the left in order to fight Tory Brexit.

The main enemy identified in the letter is the Tory government determined to impose a hard anti-working class Tory Brexit on the whole UK. They gerrymandered the referendum by excluding sizable groups of voters. The letter does not identify Corbyn with the Tory enemy but appeals to him saying “the Tory referendum on the EU presents us with the challenge of finding a progressive democratic and internationalist way out of the mess they have landed us in”.

Opposition to an anti-Unionist united front comes from the Tories, UKIP and the right wing of the Labour Party committed to the interests of the British ruling class. They are demanding Corbyn joins their popular front to defend the UK. The socialist wing of the Labour Party is thus caught on the horns of a dilemma. Should they back the Tories, as Gordon Brown did, whilst trying to keep a safe distance to deceive the working class? Or should they adopt a novel or indeed ‘revolutionary’ approach. Left Unity and RISE have to show they are relevant to this battle if they are to be relevant at all.

One explanation for the reluctance of Left Unity and RISE to unite and fight the class enemy is simply that both organisations are not ready to fight or are simply too weak. We can respect that if it is honestly admitted but not if it is concealed by excuses and general flim-flam.

The other obvious reason is sectarian politics which rejects the fight for the united front. In Scotland a strong opinion among ultra lefts and sectarians that Corbyn is irrelevant. This is parochial nationalism of the worst type. Corbyn is still seen as dangerous because he encourages working class action. There is no doubt that Corbyn is connected to the working class and trade union movement in England where by far the largest section of the working class is concentrated.

International socialists in Scotland recognise this fact and it figures in their calculations about building an anti-Unionist alliance with international socialists in England. Anti-Unionism has to be fought both sides of the border and especially among the English working class, as does the inevitable growth of national chauvinism especially in England.

Left Unity and RISE are embryonic anti-Unionist socialist parties. They are stronger campaigning together and weaker apart. This open letter did not bark. It is a wakeup call. There is no future for parties that are not ready or able to fight over the big political issues of the day. There is no bigger issue than the very future of the Kingdom.

Draft Open Letter January 2017

Dear Jeremy,

In the EU referendum England (53%) and Wales (53%) voted to leave the EU. Scotland (62%) and Northern Ireland (56%) voted to remain. Given the position of the Irish Republic then there is a majority to remain in the whole of Ireland. We should not forget the Tories distorted the result by excluding 1.6 million EU citizens living in the UK and all 16-18 year olds from the ballot.

The Tories will try to impose their version of Brexit on the whole of the UK. It is vital that the Labour Party and the trade union movement respect the democratic votes in Scotland and Northern Ireland to remain in the EU. It is clear that Scotland and Northern Ireland cannot remain in the EU and the UK, particularly in the face of hard line Tory Unionism.

British Exit is creating or adding to a constitutional crisis. Hence we note your call for a “constitutional convention” as recognition of the need for radical democratic change. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell called for a “radical federal” UK. Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale called for a “new Act of Union”.

BBC News reported your views on an independence referendum. You said “the agreement has been that a second one could be held” if it was wanted by the Scottish Parliament. You added: “I don’t see the need for one, I’m not asking for one, I don’t think she (Nicola Sturgeon) should call one.” (BBC News 12 January 2017).

The United Kingdom is a multi-nation state and a constitutional right of nations to self determination must apply to Scotland, currently partitioned Ireland and Wales. It is not for the English people to impose on Scotland or part of Ireland the decision to leave the EU, in defiance of their democratically expressed will. It is vital that democrats and socialists stand for the rights of these nations to make democratic decisions on whether to remain in the UK or the EU.

The Tory referendum on the EU presents us with the challenge of finding a progressive democratic and internationalist way out of the mess they have landed us in. The most radical and democratic solution is for Scotland and Northern Ireland to leave the UK. This would enable workers in Scotland and Ireland to benefit from free movement and build closer links with European workers. However this is for the Scottish and Irish people to decide by democratic means.

We are calling, as a matter of urgency, on you, the Labour Party, Momentum and all progressive forces to pledge that the Scottish and Irish people can hold a referendum on leaving the UK. This must be included in the Labour Party Manifesto.

In comradeship

(National Secretaries)

On behalf of Left Unity and RISE

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English chauvinism

English chauvinism

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, addressed the Scottish Labour Party conference to tell them that “seeking to break up the Union will only to fuel harmful divisions caused by the election of the controversial US President and the Brexit Vote.” (1) Khan condemned the SNP plan for a referendum. He claimed that the right response to the Brexit vote was “to build a more United Kingdom”.

Surely a better response to Trump and Brexit is for the people of Scotland to remain in a Union with the Germans, French and Spanish and a few more nations too numerous to mention. It is what they voted for in the most recent referendum. What is so important about England that it trumps all other considerations? Khan speaks as an English nationalist. What is best for his nation is best for all. It does not enter his head that Scotland might be better off with Denmark, Ireland and Sweden than remaining in Theresa May’s pro-Trump Brexit Britain.

Khan is not the first English chauvinist blinded by his own national arrogance. It is patently untrue that “there is no difference between those who try to divide us on the basis of whether we are English or Scottish and those who try to divide us on the basis of our background (he surely means class), race or religion”. (1) Khan is not the first Englishman to come up with this theory of “no difference” between a bus driver and stock broker or that supporting Scotland or Ireland’s right to self determination is no different from racism, fascism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. He certainly won’t be the last.

Look no further than Cameron. On the day of the 2014 Scottish referendum result, Cameron stood on the steps of Downing Street to call for ‘English votes for English laws’. Here is one ‘difference’. Scotland has a parliament and England does not. Of course in a federal system there would be an English parliament elected by voters in England. The present constitution is a horrible mess of complexity and confusion, unbalanced by semi-federalism. It cannot last much longer.

But this wasn’t a rational discussion on the byzantine complexity of the UK constitution. Cameron was playing the ‘English card’ as a Tory dog whistle for alienated English. He was fanning the embers of resentment against enemies on the other side of Hadrian’s Wall. The theme of Tory chauvinist propaganda is that Scottish people are living the life of Reilly at our generous expense. Of course the Tories love conservative law-abiding Scots but hate the ungrateful Scottish nationalists who, in Khan’s words, are “seeking to break up the Union”. They love workers as much as they hate ‘divisive’ strikers!

The EU referendum showed the ‘Prisoners of Mother England’ are angry and some are mad as hell. Some of her prisoners are on drugs and others are into self harm. Many want to kick the crap out of their fellow prisoners. Her Majesty’s prison warders, in charge of the hell hole, have tried desperately to distract them with fake news about immigrants, the European Union, the troublesome Irish and last but not least rebellious Scots.

Great English chauvinism is a weapon of the British ruling class. Cameron deployed it in the 2015 general election to finish off Milliband’s version of New Labour. The Tories kept their best weapon for Liberal Democrat voters in the key marginal constituencies. They tested Milliband’s patriotic virility by claiming that a vote for Labour would help the SNP. He was not found wanting. There was no way he would have an alliance with the nationalist SNP. He would rather lose the election than suffer that ignominy.

Like fear of immigrants, fear of the SNP caused panic in Labour ranks and persuaded voters in key marginals to back the Tories. It is ironic that Cameron’s anti-Scottish election victory delivered a solid block of fifty SNP MPs, opened the way for Jeremy Corbyn, led the country out of the EU and to the brink of a Scottish exit from the UK. Cameron acted out his ‘Flashman’ role as the upper class opportunistic English chauvinist. It ‘worked’ for him. As Khan has shown, since Brexit it is a card that Desperate Labour is ready to use. But the real problem is closer to home. The left in England is terrified of the English question and guilty of chauvinism by neglect. In that neglect are the seeds of the radical lefts failure to connect with the people.

Steve Freeman
Rise and Left Unity
(1) Independent 25 February 2017

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Article 50

Professor A C Grayling told his audience at the recent Putney Debates in St Mary’s church that he had been opposed to Scottish independence in 2014 but had now changed his mind. He was now in favour of it. What had changed his mind was Brexit. He says “a mere 37% of the gerrymandered electorate voted Leave”. He blamed this on Cameron who “lazily and thoughtlessly allowed the referendum to be poorly organised” by excluding young people and EU citizens living and paying taxes in the UK. He concluded “had they voted in the EU referendum the result would have been markedly the other way. Their exclusion was gerrymandering.” (1)

This week the issue is the triggering of Article 50 to start negotiations. Corbyn is in a no win situation – damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. This is generally how Corbo gets a bad press whatever he does, every day of the week. On article 50 he really is between a rock and a hard place. What should he do?

Hard Brexit is the hardest anti-working class policy not only for UK workers but for workers in the EU. Hard Brexit must be fought tooth and nail, the only question is how? First the working class is seriously divided and that must be recognised and taken into account. Second hard anti-working class Brexit will not be defeated in parliament. Nobody should have any illusions in the House of Commons or Lords.

The Commons is out of touch and will prove once again to be a pliant tool of the Crown. Nobody should have any faith or belief that the Commons can or will defeat anti-working class Brexit. If there is endorsement or rejection of the dodgy and corrupt deal Her Majesty’s government will come up with, it is far better to put it to the people. Who should vote on the Tory deal? Trust the people or trust MPs? It is no contest. There should be a referendum on the final deal. Let the case be made, tested and contested in the workplaces, on the streets and in our communities.

The real battle over Brexit will have to take place outside Parliament. This phoney struggle between MPs and parties inside parliament is only useful in so far as it educates working class people about the true state of affairs and what is to be done by the working class movement to unite and mobilise working class direct action.

Corbyn has done one thing correctly. He has put the parliamentary Labour Party behind the idea of a democratic mandate on Article 50. The question is what is a democratic mandate? Is it a British Unionist or UK mandate? Is it a mandate from local constituents? Is it a mandate from the people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales? The latter is the only democratic mandate that Corbyn should accept. It is the only option if you are prepared to do battle outside parliament.

The people of Scotland and Northern Ireland (and the rest of Ireland) have voted to remain in the EU. The people in England and Wales voted to leave. These votes are a nail in the coffin of the UK. All people around the world who have been victims of British imperialism will rightly be happy about that. Brexit is about a revamp of British imperialism, more firmly dependant on and subservient to the United States and the newly elected King Donald the First.

The parliamentary Labour Party has split between British Unionists who will be voting under their three line whip to trigger Article Fifty and localists who take their mandate from their constituencies. It would be political suicide if every Labour MP voted along the lines of their constituency. It would split the Labour Party even more deeply than the Tories have been divided over Europe.

If we were standing in Corbyn’s shoes what should we do? Or to put it another way what would a revolutionary democrat do in the face of this dilemma? In the first case Corbyn should instruct his Scottish MP to vote against Article 50 taking the mandate from the Scottish people. This is what the SNP has done. He should instruct his English and Welsh MP’s to vote for triggering EU negotiations. If he did this he would send out a signal to people outside parliament how the battle is going to go.

On the other hand a revolutionary democrat would recognise the right of nations to self determination and the sovereignty of the people. Conservative Tories, liberal unionists and conservative communists have one overriding principle in the preservation of the British Crown and British Union. Defending the Great British nation instead of ending it as quickly as possible is nothing other than reactionary stupidity. In the post Brexit world the British Union is heading backwards towards the British Union of Fascists.

Corbyn’s socialism is rooted in liberal democracy not revolutionary democracy. He is right to attend to the ‘will of the people’ and a democratic mandate not least because of the divisions in the working class. But he has no more recognised the democratic rights of the Scottish or Irish people than Theresa May. May, a hard line Unionist and anti-working class Brexiteer has already declared she will drive her tanks all over Scotland and Northern Ireland. Corbyn is now tying himself into that with fatal consequences.

(1) Professor AC Grayling The New European 27 January 2017

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Devolution in Reverse

Devolution is not just going in reverse. The Devolution settlement is a dead duck, swept aside by the Brexit counter-revolutionary steamroller. In a moment of crisis it turns out the Scottish parliament has no power and Scotland can look forward to a decade of Tory rule as a prisoner of the greatest neo-liberal trader and tax haven on the planet.

There is no democratic mandate for the Crown to take Scotland and Northern Ireland out of the Europen Union. In 2014 Scotland voted to remain in the UK and in 2016 voted to remain in the EU. This is a contradiction which overturns assurances given to Scottish voters in 2014 that remaining in the UK was the way to stay in the EU. It may be possible to patch it up with a dirty deal between Sturgeon and May. But the democratic solution is for the Scottish people, not politicians and bureaucrats, to vote and decide in a referendum.

There must be a second referendum in Scotland. This must ask the Scottish people if, in the light of England’s decision to leave the EU, they want to remain in the UK or in the European Union. This is too important to leave it up to Sturgeon and the SNP. This is not a repeat of the 2016 Tory referendum but is consequential to it. Ireland faces the same problem.

The situation in Ireland has its own logic. In the North fifty three per cent voted to remain in the EU and there is even larger support in the Republic. Yet once again, as it has been for centuries, the position of Ireland will be decided by the British Crown. The ending of the Stormont government by Sinn Fein because of the “cash for ash” corruption scandal reflects the worsening relations between the DUP and Sinn Fein. Bring into this explosive mix the border question, and the carefully constructed ‘Power Sharing’ house of cards may be in serious trouble.

The constitutional problems continue to mount. Devolution is not federalism but a barrier to it. It is not self determination but a road block against it. In devolving some powers, the Crown retains what it needs whenever it needs it. It must seize all the power it can get right now, taking back power from the Westminster parliament and from the devolved assemblies. It is a power grab brought on by the crisis of Brexit.

The Supreme Court has partly derailed that. The judges ruled that the powers of the Crown, so-called prerogative powers, cannot be used to bypass parliament on Article 50. They decided by eight to three it requires parliamentary approval. However the Devolved assemblies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have no powers or rights in this matter. Her Majesty’s judges were unanimous on this.

The Court pronounced that “on the devolution issues, the court unanimously concludes that neither section 1 nor section 75 of the NIA is of assistance in this case, and that the Sewel Convention does not give rise to a legally enforceable obligation.” Lord Neuberger said that “relations with the EU and other foreign affairs matters are reserved to UK Government and parliament, not to the devolved institutions.” Assurances given were not worth the paper they were written on.

Lord Neuberger recognised that “withdrawal from the EU will alter the competence of the devolved institutions, and remove the responsibilities to comply with EU law.” Blair’s Devolution settlement has been exposed as a hollow shell. The Scottish people and Scottish Parliament have to wait to be told their fate as the biggest constitutional and economic change is forced on them against their will.

Christian Allard, a French Scot, who served as an MSP for the SNP between 2013 and 2016, said: “Devolution is an illusion, devolution is no more. And the ruling is proving that devolution is just an illusion. Devolution died today. No surprise, just a proof that power devolved is power retained.”

England’s crisis is Ireland’s opportunity. If Ireland is ready to fight to remain in the EU then the battle over the Irish border is set to commence. Together Scotland and Ireland can finally end three hundred years of British Unionism, which is no more than an excuse for English chauvinism and bossy Thatcher type bullying.

Brexit is the greatest crisis that England has faced since the Second World War. Devolution saved the Union and Brexit has wreaked it. We are in a period of the phoney war like early 1940. No bombs have started to fall. The war of words is brewing up. Various war plans were being put in place. Corbo is leading his troops into the Tory-Unionist trenches. Very soon, in the next year, all hell is going to break loose.

Steve Freeman
Left Unity and Rise

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Brexit counter revolution

Every popular rebellion or revolution produces its equal and opposite reaction in counter-revolution. England’s national uprising against the EU was won and lost on 23 June 2016. No sooner had victory had been declared, than the Brexit counter revolution began. The Crown took control with May at the helm. She declared ‘Brexit means Brexit’. As Humpty Dumpty said to Alice, in Brexit wonderland a word “means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less”.

The Brexit counter-revolution has only one real aim – make the working class pay for the mess the Tories have got us into, with the City and big business avoiding any collateral damage to their profits. May has told us we are leaving. But don’t take that at face value. It is a ‘clean break with exceptions’. Some are happy with the clean break and others have hope invested in the exceptions.

The words ‘clean break’ are directed to the Tories and Brexit voters. But it tells the EU that the UK is ready to play hard ball. We are ready and willing to walk away and leave the EU with heavy debts still payable to the City of London. “We don’t need you and can live without you” is a good negotiating position.

‘Clean exit’ is code for immigration control. It allows the Tories to play the race card by openly rejecting free movement. However the phrase ‘with exceptions’ keeps the door wide open to special deals for the Tories friends in the City. The devil is in the detail and this is where Crown secrecy begins and ends. Neither parliament nor people will uncover the real deal between the French, German and British ruling classes.

May flagged up the new model of “global Britain” not Little England but Greater America. We will become a Singapore in the North Sea, flying the Stars and Stripes with low tax, low social spending, and anti-union policies. Singapore is described an “authoritarian democracy”, a dictatorship of the free market. The state controls the show and relies on US multi-national corporations. This is a social calamity for the working class.

Global free trade is being heavily marketed to the working class who will have to pay for it. As Donald Trump might say it is going to be “Great”. It will be so great as to be unbelievable. There will be limits on workers’ rights to come from or go to the EU. This will encourage and build even greater divisions amongst workers. There is the empty promise of ‘workers’ on company boards which the Tories will never agree to.

Of course the Tories know their Achilles heel is Scotland and Ireland. May recognised this by promising to “listen” and consult with the Scottish, Welsh and collapsed Northern Irish governments. As we have already argued there was one revolutionary outcome to the Tory referendum, if Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales voted to remain and England voted out.

So the UK referendum has given the ruling class a “clear and ever present danger”. That danger is the possibility that England’s Brexit may trigger a democratic revolution. If there is going to be a democratic future the battle begins in Scotland and spreads to Ireland. All this puts a rocket under English chauvinism of the right or left variety ideologically committed to “Britain” and the “British” and hence to Unionism.

On July 13 Theresa May, the new PM stood at the podium outside Downing Street. She “vowed to be a unionist and lead a ‘One Nation’ government” (1) She explained that “not everybody knows this but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist Party and the word unionist is very important to me” (1). “It means we believe in the union, the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” (1). That is something for Jeremy Corbyn and all the Marxist Cobynistas to ponder

Steve Freeman
Left Unity and Rise

(1) Daily Star 13 July 2016.

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Brexit Revolution

Scotland’s Republic

In her speech to the Tory conference Theresa May promised the Brexit revolution which would bring power back to the UK. She declared “change is going to come” in what she described as a “quiet revolution”. The “roots of the revolution run deep” in Britain because this was “a revolution in which millions of our fellow citizens stood up and said they were not prepared to be ignored anymore”. (1)

“All revolutions begin with a rejection of the old order, and the elites and institutions that preside over it” says Jeremy Warner (2). He asks if the “Brexit revolution be Glorious or bloody?” Will it follow the French and Russian revolutions or “the profound but quiet change epitomised by Britain’s very own “Glorious Revolution” of 1688”.

He concludes that “Brexit doesn’t match either of these two models. It is of altogether smaller magnitude. But as an act of rebellion against the established elites….it is an historical rupture none the less and could still go either way”. So yes it too early to say what the outcome of the ‘Brexit revolution’ will be. For Warner, it depends on the fate of the Governor of the Bank of England. He is still in his job and there is no sign of the peasants storming Threadneedle Street.

A Great Rebellion is not a revolution. It has shaken the ruling class and hence the institutions of the Crown. It has divided the two major ruling class parties, Tories and Labour. I agree with Warner it “could still go either way”. Under the slogan “Brexit means Brexit” the Tories moved very swiftly to take over the rebellion. With the promise of jam tomorrow, the UK would adopt a ‘new’ policy of aggressive free trade.

Boris Johnson, the Brexit Foreign Secretary, outlined the new liberal imperialism. Free markets, gunboats and high moral values are nothing new. After a speech in which he expressed his “profound concerns …about the suffering of the people of Yemen” he went on to describe London as the “eighth Emirate” and declared “Britain is back east of Suez”. He promised £3 billion on military commitments in the Gulf over the next ten years. (3)

In 1649 Gerard Winstanley condemned the deceit and cunning of the counter-revolution. “O what mighty Delusion, do you, who are the powers of England live in! That while you pretend to throw down that Norman yoke, and Babylonish power, and have promised to make the groaning people of England a Free People; yet you still lift up that Norman yoke, and slavish Tyranny, and holds the People as much in bondage” (4)

There was only one outcome of the Tory referendum with potentially revolutionary implications: if Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales voted to remain in the EU and England voted to leave. It did not quite happen but it was near enough. England voted 53.4% and Wales voted 52.5% to leave. Scotland voted 62% and Northern Ireland voted 55.8% to remain.

This, and only this, result threatens the constitutional settlement of 1688-1707 on which the United Kingdom and the British Empire were built. Until recently this has only been challenged from Ireland. The Irish revolution (1916-22) raised the long struggle for democracy to the level of a battle between the forces of the Unionist Crown and Anti-Unionist republicanism. In Northern Ireland (1968-1998) a campaign for civil rights and equality became a revolutionary struggle against Unionism.

In the last ten years Scotland has mounted its own assault on the Union culminating in the Scottish referendum in 2014. More than anybody the Tories instinctively understand the threat to the Tory state. So while Theresa May promised to satisfy the Great English Rebellion, she “blasted divisive nationalists such as the SNP”. She repeated her vow to keep the UK together in the face of Nicola Sturgeon’s threat to hold a second independence referendum. She said: “We are one United Kingdom – England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland – I will always fight to preserve our historic Union.” (5)

It is possible, if not yet likely, that the Great English Rebellion will bring about the birth of the Scottish Republic. Certainly ending the 1707 Act of Union is a revolutionary act against the United Kingdom and a democratic act after the EU referendum when the Scottish people voted to remain. In 2014 Scotland’s democratic revolution was defeated perhaps for a decade or a generation. Now it is game on again.

After England voted out, we need a militant republican party ready to fight for Scotland’s republic. Such a party has to unite the progressive sections of the working class in Scotland and England. Recently Left Unity, largely based in England, adopted an Anti-Unionist position. Rise, a political alliance of Scottish anti-Unionist socialists, has agreed to begin talks with Left Unity on possible co-operation. This is good news for those seeking a progressive democratic and internationalist answer to the chauvinist ‘Great English Rebellion’.

Steve Freeman
(LU and RISE)

(1) Sunday Express Greg Heffer 5 October 2016
(2) Daily Telegraph 27 October 2016.
(3) Daily Mail 9 December 2016
(4) Gerard Winstanley, The True Levellers Standard Advanced.
(5) Sunday Express Greg Heffer 5 October 2016

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Little England Trumped


Little England trumped

Here we have a glimpse of reality, entirely absent from the Tory referendum. The iconic picture of Trump with Farage reveals a certain truth about Brexit. We can invent our own dialogue. Farage says “Donald I am handing you the UK on a plate”. Trump, thumbs up, replies “thanks, I’ll take Scotland as my golf course, the NHS, and more tax breaks for American multinationals. I want free trade deals to benefit America and no more wind farms”.

The decision to leave the EU did not take place in isolation from real economic forces. In 2015 China became the world’s largest economy with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) measured at $19.5 trillion. The EU was not far behind with $19.1 trillion, followed by the United States with $17.9 trillion. The UK is integrated with and dependent on both the US and the EU economies, not least through the close relations between Wall Street and the City.

Exit from the EU therefore leaves the UK more dependent on the US. There is no future for the UK as an independent imperialist power. Only fantasists like UKIP and Tory free marketers seem to think so. The UK is not about to conquer the world by imposing ‘free trade’ deals on Europe, China and America with our nineteen frigates. So Farage has arrived where Brexit was always taking us.

After meeting Trump, the UKIP leader said we should “be in no doubt” that Trump was a supporter of the UK and willing to be “very close partners.” There was a “real opportunity” for “Brexit Britain” to have improved UK trade with the US. He claimed that Trump would be a much more accommodating partner than Obama who he suggested had “damaged” the relationship between both countries.

So in reality England and Wales voted to leave the EU for a new Atlantic partnership with the USA. The picture portrays the reality of ‘partnership’. It provides a cold shower of realism and a metaphor for America and England. On one side is one of the richest and most powerful men in the world and on the other a powerless Little Englander pumped up by his own hubris.

This was not the story presented in the referendum. Brexit was an ideological campaign around the values of British nationalism. Britain would become a free and independent nation once again. There would be “British jobs for British workers” as Gordon Brown promised. Great Britannia would again rule the waves striking deals hither and thither, as the vanguard of renewed free market globalisation, innovation and trade.

Of course Obama wanted the UK to remain in the EU to protect US interests by advancing the neo-liberal ‘Anglo-Saxon’ model of capitalism. Voting to leave was a rejection of advice from Washington in a way which would leave British business more dependent on the US than ever.

It is an opportunity that a business man like Trump is ready to exploit to the full. Farage explained “Not only President-elect Trump, but his whole team is Anglophile. They like our country, they recognise what we’ve done together in the past, and they’re coming into this with an incredibly positive view. We need to seize the day.”

So little England has taken to hanging around the new King of America’s golden palace hoping for a few favours. Trump duly obliged. He told the world that Farage was his preferred British ambassador. The Tories were embarrassed. Her Majesty was not amused. It is her job to appoint ambassadors and she does not take kindly to somebody interfering with her prerogative powers. Yet in the new post Brexit world all the Tories can do is grin and bear it.

The divisions of class and nation are at the heart of the problems socialists have to overcome. Scratch British nationalism and behind it is the monster of Great English chauvinism. The referendum showed deep divisions in the country. Ireland, north and south, wants to remain in the EU. Scotland voted to stay not least because Scottish nationalism looks across the North Sea to a more European social democratic future like Norway or Denmark.

The Tory referendum highlighted divisions within the working class. Many working class people in England and Wales voted out, rejecting the urging of the ruling class and the Westminster establishment. Combine anger, frustration, poverty and an absence of class organisation with patriotic appeals, love of country, resentment of foreigners and we have a dangerous brew.

Most organised workers and Labour Party members did not fall for this British independence bullshit. Yet what is really revealed is confusion about what to do next. The socialist movement has not recognised the danger of Great English chauvinism and has no progressive policy for confronting it other than moral condemnation.

Leaving the EU frying pan means jumping more firmly into the US fire. So now we have to deal urgently with England’s relationship with itself, with Europe, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The future of Corbyn’s Labour Party and Left Unity depends on this. Let us begin by finding and taking the democratic exit from this nightmare

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Brexit Democracy

Battle for democracy

French workers marching in London against Library closures. Great antidote to Brexit.

French workers marching in London against Library closures. Great antidote to Brexit.

“The Brexit battle is intensifying” saying Ian Birrell (Independent 7 November 2016) in an article entitled “The Battle for democracy”. He says “at the heart of Brexit lies one word: democracy”. This is now becoming more contested as “the debate throws up deep issues over the nature of democracy”. It is no simple matter. “Democracy, of course, goes far deeper than simply voting every few years, something underscored by despots who get their regimes rubber stamped in dodgy elections”.

During the referendum, leave campaigners appealed to alienated sections of the working class. They “tapped into a visceral sense of popular unease over elitism and the lack of power”. Trump has played the same card. Brexiteers claimed that “our democracy” was stolen by EU bureaucrats as jobs and pay were undercut by EU migrants. “This was the rallying cry of the triumphant campaigners against the EU, declaring in the vaguest terms that Britain must “take back control”. The Brexit case was thus a strange brew of democratic, British nationalist and racist arguments.

Of course democratic arguments appeared on both sides of the EU debate. Both could agree that the EU was not democratic. Yes the bureaucracy in the EU and UK serves corporate interests. However we have not lost “democracy” because we never had it. The relationship between the EU bureaucracy and the feeble European parliament is a mirror image of Whitehall bureaucrats and Westminster ‘democracy’. The UK is an oligarchy not a democracy. To find the origins of the problem we have to go back to the seventeenth century.

In making their decision over who has the legal authority to trigger article 50 to leave the European Union, the High Court judges (3 November 2016) say “the bedrock of the British constitution is …the supremacy of the Crown in Parliament”. They explain this “was decisively confirmed in the settlement arrived at with the Glorious revolution in 1688 and has been recognised ever since”. The people did not figure in the equation of power. Today the Crown, Parliament and People might seem like a circle with power moving around between them. Now the power of the people appears momentarily in elections and referenda.

On 23 June a majority of people in England and Wales voted to leave the EU. The Crown lost control of the situation. With typical speed and ruthlessness the Tories dumped Cameron and gave his job to May. With the slogan “Brexit means Brexit” the Crown took back power as surely as if they had mounted a coup. Now they will negotiate in secret and inform parliament and the people at a time of their own choosing after the ‘best’ deal is signed and sealed.

The Crown, through its Ministers and Mandarins, primarily serves the City of London whose merchants and bankers won the 1688 revolution. What plan is currently being worked on? It is a plan to get the best outcome for the City and one designed to divide the working class. Of course as in all diplomacy between imperialist powers some clauses will not be revealed to parliament or people. The winners and losers of so-called Brexit will be the same class which emerged victorious from the great banking disaster of 2008.

Birrell explains the current legal dispute in the High Court as a struggle between parliament and people. He says “many of our current tensions arise from a mandate delivered through direct democracy clashing with the representative democracy embodied by Westminster”. This is how the right wing Brexit press attacked the High Court judges as “enemies of the people”. As in 1688 the UK constitution still involves a struggle over the use Crown’s prerogative powers against Parliament, coming to the fore in times of crisis from Iraq to Brexit.

So far the British left has largely failed to take up the democratic questions either correctly or seriously before during or after the referendum. They conceded hegemony to the Tories and UKIP. The Labour Party accepts and supports constitutional monarchy. The revolutionary left has no track record in fighting to extend democracy. It is the party of protest not the party of power. Left Unity has to break from both those kinds of politics.

The people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales were given a binary choice. With a myriad of motives and levels of consciousness they voted between the two options. The Tories and UKIP give racist interpretations to serve their own interests. But democrats point out that the people were not given a choice over what was the best kind of exit. They have not been consulted over managing the process or on the terms of leaving. The nations who want to remain have not been offered self determination.

At the recent Left Unity conference the party called for a Democratic Exit and rejected the right wing slogan of Brexit. Socialists must fight for a people’s Dexit against the City’s Brexit. Demanding a fully democratic exit must include mobilising for a democratic revolution, the transfer of power to the people combined with the struggle for workers rights. Scotland is still the key democratic battle ground.

Republican socialists endorse Ian Birrell’s claim that “at the heart of Brexit lies one word: democracy”. This means nothing unless it becomes a programme for a democratic revolution which rejects the sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament for a Commonwealth in England founded on the sovereignty of the people. “The battle for democracy” did not end with the Tory referendum. It has only just begun.

Steve Freeman
Left Unity and Rise

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The Tories, UKIP, the Democratic Unionists, the Liberal Democrats, and the Labour Party are all British Unionist parties. Last weekend Left Unity (LU) conference took a significant step forward. It became an Anti-Unionist party and thus drew a sharp distinction with Corbyn’s Labour Party. LU took the first steps to realigning the party with the democratic movement in Scotland, not least in demanding the abolition of the 1707 Act of Union.

Since 2015 the Corbyn victories have produced an existential crisis in Left Unity. The party was founded in 2013 in the “Spirit of 45” to fill the political space vacated by New Labour with its neo-liberal policies. The post war ‘social monarchy’ had been under assault by every government from Thatcher to Blair and Brown. The election of Corbyn turned the tables. The “Spirit of 45” now revived inside the Labour Party. The very purpose of Left Unity and its rival Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) were put under question.

Over the last year LU lost members to Labour and Momentum. The three main Marxist groups, Workers Power, CPGB and Socialist Resistance have all departed for greener pastures in the Labour Party. There is no denying the contribution members of these groups made to Left Unity. LU is weakened by their exit. Yet politically they were a barrier to building a socialist party of militant working class democracy and internationalism. Nowhere was this shown more clearly than their failures on the national question.

The conference began, as it meant to continue, by moving the motions on Scotland from the end of the agenda to the middle. Then the first motion from York that LU should dissolve was easily seen off. If the rats had already left there was no sign the ship was sinking. The crew were busily plotting a new course for new political conditions. Left Unity would fight alongside, but remain independent of, the Labour Party and would highlight its distinct programme or, in marketing speak, it unique selling points.

This conference may, in time, come to be seen as a turning point in Left Unity’s fight back. There would be no concessions to the Anglo-British nationalism which is underpinned by Unionism. This had powered the leave campaign. ‘Make Britain great again’, ‘British jobs of British workers’, ‘take back British sovereignty’ and ‘stop immigration’ were at the centre of the ‘British Exit’ campaign. LU rejected the concept of Brexit and called for a “Democratic Exit”. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU and must be allowed to do so. England and Wales voted leave and should do so as soon as possible.

In the post EU referendum world, LU agreed to fight to defend all workers rights and social rights, not least of European citizens denied a vote in the referendum. Just as employers are demanding ‘free trade’ and access to EU markets, so organised workers must fight to maintain the right to move freely across the EU. There should be no restrictions and no work permits. Free movement for workers is as important as free trade is for capitalists. Therefore England and Wales should remain, like Norway, in the European Economic Area.

All this is a defensive position against reactionary forces. But looking to the future LU would “campaign for a refounded European union on a democratic and anti-capitalist basis” and continue to work with the European Left Party. Whilst there is still more to be done on European policy there is no retreat on freedom of movement and a democratic Europe. Work on developing policy will continue at the next conference agreed for spring 2017.

Conference policy on Europe, Scotland and the Labour Party neatly fuse on the issue of self determination. The new policy says “Left Unity recognises the right of the Scottish people to self determination and in particular the right to remain in the EU given the majority vote in Scotland to remain. Left Unity will fully support the call for a ‘self determination’ referendum to enable the Scottish people to decide to leave the UK and seek to remain in the EU”.

Consequently “Left Unity calls for the Labour Party to support such a referendum and commit a future Labour government to guarantee Scotland’s right to referendum on the EU or on other issues. In the event that a Scottish referendum is held before the next general election, LU will promote activities to encourage the working class movement to support Scottish exit from the UK to implement the decision of the Scottish people to seek to remain in the EU”.

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LU Conference 25 October 2016

End or new beginning?

This weekend is Left Unity conference. The central question should be the democratic revolution and the role of the working class and how this impacts on Scotland, Ireland, Europe (EU) and the Labour Party after Corbyn. Unfortunately this is not on the radar screen. The focal point is on what Labour can achieve and what role should LU play in relation to it? At least on paper this seems like a repeat of last year’s conference, as if LU is stuck in a rut.

Since last year LU has continued to lose members to the Labour Party and Momentum. Most recently Socialist Resistance has joined Workers Power and the CPGB in heading out the exit door and into Labour. The party of social reform has to decide whether to join Labour. The party of democratic revolution has to explain why republicanism and anti-Unionism is necessary in the UK and why we should fight for a republican United States of Europe if we are serious about socialism and not limited to British social reform.

It is worth standing back and remembering where LU began. At the founding conference in 2013 there were three alternative perspectives presented – identified with 1945, 1917 and 1649. The majority view saw the party standing in the traditions of British Labour – constitutional conservatism and social reform. The 1945-50 Labour government is remembered in popular culture for the formation of the welfare state, public ownership and the NHS. It reflected the popular clamour for social change as a result of the Second World War. Ken Loach, one of the prime movers for LU, produced a film, the “Spirit of 45”, to capture the politics of ‘radical’ socialism.

This was a magnet for many socialists alienated from New Labour, the Iraq war and austerity policies of the Tories and the Labour Party. The CPGB and Workers Power who joined the new party proposed an alternative perspective derived from the 1917 Russian revolution and the founding of the British communist party. They wanted Left Unity to become a Marxist party and thus a direct competitor with the SWP and the Socialist Party. Their involvement made Left Unity a ‘half way house’ of radical socialists and communists in the same party with the freedom to organise their own platform.

The third perspective was related to the democratic revolution in the seventeenth century. In 1649 the monarchy and House of Lords were abolished and England became a “Commonwealth”. In the Levellers and the Diggers we have the combination of republicanism and social or common ownership. The suppression of these movements by the Cromwellian counter-revolution is now commemorated at the festivals at Burford in May and Wigan in September. The struggle for democracy has continued in permanence, through the Chartists, Suffragettes, Irish republican socialism (James Connolly) and down to the present. LU must take up the cudgel.

In 2013 the strategic and programmatic choices were between building a socialist Labour Party, a Marxist or Trotskyist party and a republican socialist party. By 2016 politics has moved on as a result of the Scottish and EU referenda and the unexpected election of Jeremy Corbyn. All the Marxist groups have left to join Labour. So should LU become an external faction of the Labour Party or become a more independent party with much clearer lines of demarcation from Labour on democracy, the national question and Europe?
The real ideological problem for ‘radical’ socialists is that the Labour Party had discarded its traditional ideological clothes twenty years ago. LU bought them at the Charity Shop but now Labour has claimed them back again. This can be spun in two ways. Either LU was set up on the wrong foundation, or it was merely holding the fort until Corbyn arrived with massive reinforcements. Corbyn and Momentum represents either the failure of Left Unity or its triumph on a mass scale!

Left Unity will not survive as a radical socialist or socialist Labour Party. There is only one alternative at conference, to become a republican socialist party. You would find it difficult to compare these alternatives because bizarrely they are in different sections of the agenda. In section B of the agenda there is the future of LU and relations with Labour and at the end of the day is section G on building LU and relations with Labour. The ‘future of LU’ and ‘building LU in the future’ should be considered at the same time.

The main debate in section B will repeat last year’s conference. York branch has proposed that Left Unity disband and join Labour. Haringey branch argues that LU must continue doing what we have been doing, opposing all forms of discrimination and supporting progressive struggles for a just, democratic and equal society. South London argues that LU must continue not least as an insurance policy if Corbyn is usurped (or betrayed). They want constitutional changes, a new electoral strategy and a conference in spring next year. Wigan branch wants to support Corbyn more closely, whilst developing independent policies. It calls for an end to all bans and proscriptions from the Labour Party and applying for affiliation to the Labour Party (which the CPGB proposed last year).

In section G conference will address the future of Left Unity in the light of Corbyn. Haringey is calling for a Left Forum to make links with ex members who joined Labour and others inside or outside Labour. South London has a resolution, with amendments from Wigan, calling on LU to change direction and strategy and become a republican socialist party which campaigns for democratic revolution in the UK and Europe and makes an alliance with Rise in Scotland. No prizes for guessing which road we should be supporting!

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