Boycott present difficulties

This was published in Weekly Worker before Theresa May’s deal became public and a new stage of the crisis began. It criticises the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) for hiding behind the idea of boycotting all referenda as a matter of principle.

The recent CPGB members aggregate seems to conclude that “the working class must take responsibility for changing direction” without any clue as to what that might be. It is no good avoiding present dilemmas and contradictions with abstract calls for a socialist Europe.

Boycotting the last referenda and then the next one has the advantage of consistency but the CPGB has boycotted everything in between. Criticising all other views, except those you are ignoring, without stating your own, makes Weekly Worker a commentator on events not an agitator.

The case for a ‘democratic England in a democratic Europe’ is that England must be ‘democratised’ and become the most advanced democracy within a United States of Europe. I make no claims about the future of Ireland, Scotland or Wales or what democratic relationship these nations will want to have with the rest of Europe.

Weekly Worker “What we fight for” statement calls for a “United States of Europe” or as we say a European federal republic. This democratic slogan expresses a very different position from the liberals who want to remain in the existing European Union. It is different from ‘left-remainers’ who want to remain and put Corbyn in charge of the EU.

Longer term democratic strategic aims are significant but what is the link to the present? The CPGB advocates nothing except why everybody else is wrong. Forget about whether another referendum is a good or bad thing. Is the CPGB in favour of remaining in the EU or leaving the EU? You can boycott a referendum. But you cannot avoid the question about whether the CPGB is in favour of remaining or leaving the EU.

So far the CPGB has failed to draw distinctions between remain (and left-remain) versus a democratic exit or between a repeat referendum and a ratification referendum. It is nearly as bad as saying you haven’t noticed a distinction between Chuka Umunna and Jeremy Corbyn when the former is a remainer and the latter supports a (version of) democratic exit.

‘Democratic exiters’ are those on the remain side who accepted the referendum result as the best way of dealing with the problem of a divided working class. It is the duty of communists to draw sharp lines which delineate all positions including shades of opinion. All CPGB writers have done so far is to fudge the differences and thus help to big up the liberals.

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United States of Europe

When an estimated 600,000 march for a Peoples Vote then something significant is happening. The Crown is not going to take any more notice than they did with the Iraq war demo. Add to this the equal pay strike by women in Glasgow and we can see a serious crisis is brewing up. Divisions at the top and people on the streets are a significant combination.

In previous Weekly Workers three democratic demands were highlighted.

• For a democratic exit
• For a ratification referendum
• For a democratic England in a democratic Europe

There is a sharp distinction between “Democratic Exit” and “Remain” (and “Left Remain”). Even an idiot can recognise that. There is also a clear difference between a ratification referendum and a second-repeat referendum. The former says “do you support or reject the Tory deal”? The latter says for a second time “Do you want to Remain in the EU”?

A democratic exit means carrying out the democratic mandate from 2016 when Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain and England and Wales voted to leave. This has been called the Denmark-Greenland option. The Tories never had any intention of respecting the democratic mandates given by the people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

English chauvinists do not recognise “Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales” as having any political meaning. The Tories recognise their chums in the DUP, helping them to steal the referendum result with the slogan “Brexit means Brexit”. It means whatever they want. May is now desperately trying to construct a deal which satisfies Big Business and the City of London and keeps the Tory Party from destroying itself.

For May and the Tories it is a ‘Deal’ or ‘No Deal’. If ‘No Deal’ then she has failed and must hand over the keys of Downing Street. That will surely mean a new Tory leader and the demand for a general election would become unstoppable. If the Tories then refused a general election the working class would surely take to the streets.

If May comes up with any Deal then there will be a ratification process. Labour and the CPGB have placed their trust in parliament to decide. No democrat would trust a rotten parliament. On democratic grounds, the people have the right to scrutinise the Tory deal and ‘recall’ the government. Any deal with the EU must be made accountable to the people, the vast majority being working class people.

The Labour leadership thinks parliament will block the deal and thus force May out or a general election. But who might back May’s deal and sabotage Corbyn? The answer is surely some Labour MP’s on the Peoples Vote march. In the Evening Standard (23 October 2018) Anne McElvoy says “the opposition, rather than the Government, will decide the endgame of Brexit negotiations”.

She explains “a sizeable number of Labour MPs regard Brexit as too important to be left to the mercies of a leadership (i.e. Corbyn) whose only interest in negotiations is as a tactical tool to bring about a quick general election”. Hence the Tories are counting on securing enough Labour support to get the deal through parliament.

If the Tory Deal gets through the Commons then it is goodbye to a Corbyn government for a few more years. May will be declared a hero who saved the country. Surely Labour MPs would not betray their leader? Downing Street only needs about 20 or 30 Labour traitors who would ‘save jobs’ as an act of patriotic duty and torpedo Corbyn at the same time.

The Israeli embassy could not have come up with a better plot than that. McElvoy reports that “Camp Corbyn is starting to realise it cannot rely on MPs it has treated with disdain to vote down any imaginable deal”. It is naive for the CPGB to support parliamentary ratification against the right of the people to decide. This is why a ratification referendum is the people’s democratic backstop.

The Tory government and the Brexit gang have ruled it out. Labour has not ruled it out but has kicked it into the long grass with much vacillation and confusion. Labour is calling instead for a general election. This is not going to happen unless May is overthrown, either by Tory MPs and the DUP, or the Commons or by defeat in a ratification referendum.

If May gets a deal she is safe from the Tories until the deal is put to parliament. If it gets through parliament she will likely make it to the next scheduled general election. Hence there are three hurdles for May’s survival. The first depends on the Tories and DUP, the second hurdle depends on Right wing Labour MP’s and the third depends on the people, the majority of whom are working class. A ratification referendum will not reverse the 2016 result but it could be the best or last chance to defeat May.

A democratic exit recognises the different mandates given by England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. This is compatible with the battle for a more democratic Europe. The democratic aim is a united states of Europe – a fully integrated democratic federal republic which includes the right of nations to self determination. There is no place in a European republic for the Kingdoms of Spain, Denmark, Holland and Sweden. Catalonia, which has voted for a republic, would be welcome.

British liberals are all (constitutional) monarchists and some are even royalists. There is no way they want a federal republic of Europe. They stand for remaining under the undemocratic EU constitution and rule of the EU neo-liberal bureaucracy. Weekly Worker is wrong to ‘big up’ the liberals and fudge the distinction between a liberal and democratic approach to the 2016 referendum.

 

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Democratic Exit

It brings great satisfaction to see Tory Brexit hit the Irish buffers. Those reactionaries who aimed to break up the EU will surely bring about the end of the British Union. Try as they might, the Tories have not managed to square the Unionist circle. It is surely an irony of history that the British border with the EU is in Ireland and this will finally open the way to a united Ireland.

This week polls show that 77% of English Tory members would rather see Scottish independence than abandon Brexit. The same proportion would rather abandon the Irish peace process too. Ireland is in the front line not least because the Democratic Unionist Party has May by the proverbials. Scotland has been in low profile compared to Ireland. But anytime soon the SNP will take up cudgels.

The bigger picture is in England in the battle between the Anglo-British and Anglo-Europeans, divided between liberals and democrats. The Anglo-British reactionaries and ultra lefts are at pains to deny any democratic trend. They direct their fire against the liberals for working hand in glove with big business.

Our job is to uncover and highlight a democratic programme which starts from now and points to the future. A series of democratic demands – for a democratic exit, for a ratification referendum and for a democratic England in a democratic Europe – must be examined.

The Labour conference showed the political distinction between ‘remainer-liberals’ who want a second-repeat referendum and those like Corbyn, McDonell and McClusky who want a general election but may back the democratic demand for a ratification referendum. But what about a democratic exit?

In 2016 Corbyn accepted the majority vote to leave the EU. He supported remain but accepted the majority vote to leave. The reality is that the working class split down the middle. This is dangerous for the Labour Party and the working class movement. Socialists have to overcome that division not make it worse. This is a serious problem for Labour and a trap for Corbyn which so far he has side stepped.

Corbyn was quick to call for triggering Article 50. Liberal-remain Labour MPs attacked him for being weak and claiming he was a ‘secret’ leaver who opportunistically called for remain. Corbyn has made no case that leaving the EU is in the interests of the working class. Rather he says he has accepted the majority vote but wants the best deal for jobs and social protections.

Corbyn has not argued that leaving the EU is a step to socialism. He has not claimed there are any benefits for leaving the EU nor does he look forward to the bright future after we leave. His case is that we should respect a democratic vote. The best argument for the democratic approach is about finding the way to overcome a divided working class. Labour has to relate to the leave voting section of the working class and not leave them to become voting fodder for the Tory right and the fascists.

However Corbyn’s democratic approach is not consistently democratic. There are three key points. First we must keep protesting at the denial of the right to vote to two or three million EU citizens living and paying taxes in the UK. Second we must emphasise that people voted to leave the EU not the single market or customs union. A democratic exit from the EU is consistent with remaining in the single market and customs union.

The final point concerns democratic rights to self determination. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU. The Tories ignored it. The Anglo-British ignored it. The English chauvinists ignored it. The left followed them. The Tories stand for one nation, the British nation, and one vote, the British vote.

In recognising that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain we have a radically different view of what a democratic exit must mean. Greenland and Denmark are in the Kingdom of Demark. In 1985 Greenland left the EU and Denmark remained. They are still in one state. It is the Tories parking their tanks in Ireland and Scotland who are marching to the old tune ‘keep right on to the end of the road’. No surrender.

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Anglo-Europeans and Democracy

In Weekly Worker (2 October 2018 No. 1220) Paul Demarty analysed “the poverty of left-remainers” which he identified with activists supporting ‘Another Europe is Possible’. There is much Paul says that we can agree with, not least his history of the battle for European unity. However rather than make an account of points of agreement let us concentrate what is missing.

Paul’s last paragraph sums up his conclusion. He says “We leftists are in this mess, in large part, because one such crisis has followed another, and the only constant has been the abiding sense that something must be done right now and there is no time for teasing out the treacherous subtleties of the issues before us”. Yes, we need to think about strategy and not simply what to do next.

He explains the battle over the EU which “unites Michael Chessum with Tony Blair on one side, and the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and Jacob Rees-Mogg on the other, must be posed differently altogether for the workers’ movement to make any serious purchase”. Again, we can agree with that.

Paul hints at a “leftist” alternative as an “argument about the relationship between the British state and a EU bureaucracy, which ignores the reality that both are in enemy hands, and that both must be destroyed, and a genuine socialist internationalism put to work replacing them”. The best interpretation of Paul’s position is surely the old SWP slogan “neither London nor Brussels but international socialism”.

The problem incorrectly posed by Paul has another answer. The EU referendum divided England down the middle. Since ten million people in England abstained, we should go beyond the 2016 labels of “remainers” or “leavers”. I will use the terms ‘Anglo-British’ and ‘Anglo-Europeans’.

On the Anglo-British side are the reactionaries and ultra lefts (using Paul’s shorthand “Jacob Rees-Mogg” and the “Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain). They are on the British road to socialism or the British road to neo-liberalism. So far so good.

In contrast the Anglo-Europeans are divided into liberals and democrats. Paul does not agree with this. His blinkers only allow him to see liberals who are represented by Tony Blair and Another Europe is Possible who because of “a hysterical sense of crisis that leads well-meaning left remainers to cash George Soros’s dirty cheques”.

Paul has awarded the contract to represent the Anglo-European trend to the liberals. Instead of highlighting or giving support to the democratic and hence working class answer to the European crisis, he has liquidated it. He does not recognise any democratic trend in theory or practice.

We may have different views about the content of the democratic programme. There was certainly a case for democrats and revolutionaries in England to actively abstain in the referendum. However the result divided the working class and gave a majority to the reactionaries and ultra lefts. In the face of this situation we need a clear response.

• For a democratic exit
• For a Ratification Referendum
• For a democratic England in a democratic Europe

This is not the time to elaborate on the slogan “for a democratic England in a democratic Europe”. Suffice to say that if the working class is going to win the battle of democracy then we have to “take control” not only in England, but across Europe. A democratic perspective is necessary.

The second bullet point on a “Ratification Referendum” has already been argued. The recent Labour Party conference showed a clear distinction between the slogan of a “second referendum” designed to re-run the 2016 referendum and the democratic demand for a “ratification referendum”. The latter is no repeat but the first time people have an opportunity to pass a verdict on the Tory’s dirty deal.

So whilst liberals, like Blair and Chuka Umunna, back a “second remain referendum”, the democratic demand for a “ratification referendum” is supported by McLusky, Corbyn and McDonald. It is no coincidence that these Labour leaders and trade union leaders supported ratification not repeat. A divided working class is reflected in the trade union movement. The liberals have their links to the board rooms and not roots in the union movement.

The crisis in the relations between “the British state and an EU bureaucracy” is a crisis in the British Union as well. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU and this is where a storm is brewing. So in discussing the “the poverty of left-remainers” we must not forget “the poverty of the Anglo-British” who “forget” to mention the urgent demand for a united Ireland and a Scottish republic.

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Remain or Ratify?

Last week the slogan “No second referendum, yes to a ratification referendum” was highlighted when London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, called for a “second EU referendum”. He predicted May would bring back a “bad deal” or an even worse “no deal”. Who will ratify or reject this deal – the Crown-In-Parliament alone (‘Westminster’ as it is more popularly known) or the peoples of our “Precious Union”.

On BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Khan said “It’s really important that this is not a re-run of the referendum but the British public having a say for the first time on the outcome.” This might seem clear that Khan is for ratification not a repeat of 2016. But you would be wrong. “My point is this” he said, “Rather than having a bad deal or a no deal, let’s put that to the British public with the option of staying in the EU.” (Observer16 September 2018)

The EU referendum divided the country between the reactionaries and ultra lefts on one side and liberals and democrats on the opposite side. In Weekly Worker (Issues 1213 and 1214 ‘Crisis of Democracy’ 2 August 2018) I raised the slogan “No to a second referendum, Yes to a ratification referendum”. The demand for people’s ratification provides a democratic way forward for a divided working class.

The reactionaries and ultra lefts are against any further referendum on Europe. Theresa May has repeatedly stated her opposition. The ultras say the same for different reasons. They live in their own special bubble where high principles insulate them from recognising their coincidental alignment. This same blind spot saw the SWP and the Communist Party of Britain line up behind leaving the EU alongside the Tory right and UKIP.

On the opposite side are the liberals and democrats. The duplicitous liberals, like Sadiq Khan, whether left-Tories or right- Labour, serve the interests of the City and big business. Capital needs free trade, integrated supply chains and cheap workers which the EU supplies. The slogan of a ‘second referendum’ is a deliberately ambiguous slogan behind which liberals serve profit in the name of ‘jobs’.

The divisions within the working class over British exit can easily widen and deepen. The liberals don’t care about this but working class democrats do. Barry Gardiner, the shadow international trade secretary, warned that another vote on EU membership could result in civil disobedience and social disruption. The hard right are ready for the ‘Great Betrayal’. A second referendum means feeding raw meat to the ravenous beast of Brexit.

The democratic demand for ratification is different. A recent survey of Labour members found “that 86% of members backed a referendum on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations”. (Independent 24 September). The 2016 referendum enabled the working class to vote. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. This is the key to a democratic and revolutionary approach to the Brexit divide. Working class voters across the Union must have the right to ratify or reject the Tory Deal.

The Labour Party conference clarified the options. May, the Tories and Weekly Worker oppose another referendum. Blair, Alistair Cambell, Sadiq Khan and Chuka Umunna want a second remain referendum. McCluskey, McDonnell and Corbyn support a ratification referendum. Labour’s carefully constructed ambiguity was blown up when Keir Stammer declared, in an unscripted part of his conference speech, that remain in the EU question was not ruled out.

Left democrats (i.e. republicans) have a different perspective. The battle for European democracy recognises the strategic importance of Scotland and Northern Ireland. Having already voted to remain in the EU, why should they vote on that again? Their majority votes have been ignored by the Tories. If the English left had an ounce of internationalism and democratic commitment they would already have mobilised opposition to this violation of self determination.

The left in England is a victim of Anglo-British chauvinism. Their minds are messed up with a kind of reactionary English nationalism which supports Theresa May’s “Precious Union”. Any international socialist who values the unity of the working class must fight against a second repeat referendum and call time on the British Union. The answer to Brexit starts from a united Ireland and a Scottish republic in a democratic Europe.

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On English irony

Corbyn’s 2013 speech to a meeting convened by the Palestinian Return Centre has been falsely attacked as anti-Semitic not least by the Zionist and former chief Rabbi Jonathon Sacks. He was backed up by former Scottish Labour leadership candidate Tom Harris.

Harris lied on LBC (August 30 2018) by falsely claiming that Corbyn said “British Jews don’t understand English irony”. The lie was necessary to smear Corbyn as an anti-Semite. It is part of the anti-Semitic campaign backed by Israel, the Tories and the right wing of the Labour Party to overthrow the leader of the Labour Party.

Corbyn praised the speech by Manuel Hassassian, the non-English Palestinian ambassador to the UK. Corbyn says Hassassian “does understand English irony, and uses it very effectively”. According to Corbyn you don’t have to be English to understand and effectively employ “English irony”.

I have to admit to the corollary. Despite being English and born in England, I don’t really understand this kind of irony. I realise there is irony in that. I think some of my English Jewish friends may say the same. Understanding and using “English irony” is not a racial characteristic of being a citizen of Mother England.

Corbyn’s anti-racist comments should be applauded for disconnecting “English irony” from being a white Anglo-Saxon. Using “English irony” is not a racial characteristic and therefore is not an equivalent of Norman Tebbit’s racist English cricket test. No surprise to see the Zionist Tebbit joining the anti-Semitic protest against Corbyn outside Parliament.

There is nothing racist about saying that two ‘Zionists-In-the-Audience’ didn’t understand “English irony”. It is entirely irrelevant whether they were born in England or not. If a Palestinian can understand and use it effectively it doesn’t matter a damn whether you are born in England or Israel or arrive as an immigrant or turn up as an Arab speaking Palestinian.

The allegation was made that Corbyn’s anti-racist comment on English irony was anti-Semitic. The answer hangs on who Corbyn addressed his remarks. Was it ‘Zionists-In-the-Audience’ who attacked the Palestinian ambassador’s speech? Was it all English or British Zionists or all Zionists in general? Was it all Jewish people?

The answer is clear when you listen to the recording. It was made clear in Corbyn’s recent statement. He was criticising two known ‘Zionists-In-the-Audience’ who attacked the ambassador’s speech on Palestinian history. He did not attack all English or all British Zionists. He certainly did not criticise Jews or all Jews.

Corbyn said “Zionists” and not “Jews”. He did not accuse Jews of not understanding English irony. His recent statement simply confirms this. He is not a racist and did not use the term ‘Jews or Jewish people’. It wasn’t a mistake on his part. He was extending his anti-racist statement on ‘English irony’ by NOT conflating ‘Zionists’ and ‘Jews’.

The Zionist ‘anti-Semitic’ campaign (Sacks, Tebbit, Hodge, Harris, Coyle, Regev, Field and Netanyahu etc) is based on lies and slanders. Former Rabbi Sacks and Harris, for example, use the old Neo-Nazi anti-Semitic trope that ‘All Zionists are Jews and vice versa’ and impute this to Corbyn in order to slander him.

It is anti-Semitic to knowingly or carelessly to mix up a Zionist nationalist ideology, supported by some Jews and many non-Jews, with a Jewish religious or ethnic identity. If Corbyn had made that mistake he would have had to face a barrage of criticism from thousands of anti-Zionist Jews and rightly so. But Corbyn is not guilty of something he did not do. It is a completely unjust slander.

The Zionists are seeking to mobilise Jewish opinion and wider public opinion against Corbyn by promoting scare stories that Labour is a racist and anti-Semitic party under his leadership. Making Jewish people fearful for their future in the UK by falsely claiming he is an anti-Semite is despicable and comparable with daubing Swastikas on the walls of Synagogues.

Comparing Corbyn’s support for Palestine with Enoch Powell’s infamous racist ‘rivers of blood’ speech is not merely offensive. Ex-Chief Rabbi Sacks false use of the neo-Nazi trope that ‘Zionist equals Jew’ to create fear amongst Jewish people has a shocking parallel to Enoch Powell using fear to try to mobilise the ‘white race’. It is the same modus operandi that Farage deployed in the Brexit campaign. It is another version of “Project Fear” which the elites used in Scotland, on Europe and now against Corbyn.

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Corbyn and Anti-Semitism

Anti-Semitism has been made into one of the major issues in British politics. But anti-Semitism comes in different disguises. First is open hostility, discrimination, verbal or physical violence against Jews as Jews. There is no policy or action taken by the Labour Party, before or since Corbyn became leader that is anti-Semitic. It has adopted the IHRR definition of anti-Semitism but not all examples which raise issues of free speech on Israel and by implication Palestine.

A second form of anti-Semitism is the exploitation of anti-Semitism for political motives. This ‘playing the race card’ cynically uses the fear of anti-Semitism to manipulate public opinion and gain some political advantage. There has been a massive increase in this kind of anti-Semitism in the Zionist campaign claiming Corbyn is an anti-Semite.

Knowingly or carelessly making false allegations of anti-Semitism is massively damaging not least in spreading fear amongst Jewish people and giving aid and comfort to neo-Nazis. Promoting fear among Jewish people for political aims constitutes anti-Semitism no less than daubing Swastikas on the walls of synagogues.

The Tories, some Labour MPs and the national media are metaphorically daubing swastikas and running away, like innocent children, claiming Jeremy Corbyn did it. It has to be called out for what it is. Playing the anti-Semitic card for political advantage is itself objectively anti-Semitic. Many Jewish people are now fearful from what they have been told about Corbyn that they are thinking of fleeing to Israel.

The Times editorial (25 August 2018) provides a good example of promoting fear of anti-Semitism to undermine Corbyn. It says “There are many reasons to remove Mr Corbyn from the leadership of a once great progressive party” and then spells out the paper’s political motives.

The first is identified as “a run on the pound”. Corbyn could pose a threat to the profits of newspaper barons and corporate big business. But it is not filthy lucre that is most important reason that rich people want rid of Corbyn. The editor strikes a higher moral tone. Corbyn has to go because false allegations he is an anti-Semite disqualify him from becoming a future Prime Minister.

The Times editorial claims that Corbyn made a speech in 2013 which “used the word ‘Zionist’ as synonym for ‘Jews’ and as a term of casual abuse”. This is the opposite of the truth. Then, as now, Corbyn made it clear he distinguishes between Zionists and Jews. Many Zionists are not Jews and many Jews are not Zionists. Zionism is a nationalist political ideology whereas the term ‘Jews’ refers to religious or ethnic identity regardless of nationality.

The editorial claims that Corbyn “was singling out Jews on the basis of their ethnicity”. This is not true as any proper inquiry would easily recognise. He referred to Zionists in the audience, who may or may not have been Jewish. The Times editorial mixed up the distinction between Jews and Zionists. It then tried to impose the anti-Semitic trope, that all Jews are Zionists and vice versa, to slander Corbyn.

Corbyn spoke supporting a speech by the Palestinian ambassador. He criticised Zionists, not Jews, saying they lacked an historical perspective and did not have a sense of irony. It is an opinion which you can agree or disagree with. But it is not anti-Semitic, unless you claim that ‘Zionist’ is a code word for ‘Jewish’ which it is not, unless you are ignorant or a neo-Nazi.

This leads to the editor’s final point from the front page “The Far right comes out for Corbyn”. Neo-Nazis, like Nick Griffin and David Duke, have declared their ‘support’ for Mr Corbyn. It is a win-win for them. They can help torpedo their mortal enemy Corbyn by ‘supporting’ him and getting free publicity. They must be over the moon. They no longer need to daub their swastikas to frighten Jewish people into leaving the country because the anti-Semitic campaign against Corbyn is doing the work for them.

27 August 2018
Letter to Times editor

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Principles, compromises and tactics

In Weekly Worker a debate has begun over a possible future referendum on the Tory ‘Brexit’ Deal. The 2016 EU referendum has divided the UK into reactionaries and ultra lefts on one side and liberals and democrats on the other. The slogan “No to a second (or repeat) referendum and Yes to a Ratification referendum” is not only a democratic slogan but the slogan of working class democracy.

Everybody knows that a people’s referendum means universal suffrage. Hence the members of every class can vote. We also realise that the working class is by far that largest class of voters. On a level playing field working class voters would carry the day. But although the pitch is tilted massively against the working class and the referee has been bribed, working class democracy is not afraid to fight.

A ratification referendum offers the best opportunity to rebuild political unity in a working class deeply divided over Europe. This is opposed by reactionaries and ultra lefts who oppose any referendum AND the liberals who want to repeat the last referendum and overturn the result. Working class democracy does not draw an equal sign between reactionaries who want to leave and liberals who want to remain in the EU.

A second or repeat referendum would further harden the divide in the working class. The liberals are interested in the profits of the big corporations (or ‘jobs’ as they call it) and do not give a fig about working class unity. By contrast advanced workers would relish the opportunity to unite the working class against the Tory government and consign the actual dirty Brexit deal to the dustbin of history.

Hence the task facing communists and democrats is to force the Tories to concede this. The CPGB cannot provide leadership armed with a ‘principle’ of opposing every referendum. It lines up with the Tory government, UKIP and the Tory right and the wobbly Corbyn. It is worse than this. It opposes liberal calls for a second-repeat referendum with an abstract principle.

Let us return to the original debate about the theory of referenda-in-general. Jack Conrad says “Comrade Freeman begins with a bald statement: that Jack Conrad “argued that all referenda should be opposed in principle”. He says “It is certainly true that as a matter of principle the CPGB is opposed to referendums”.

Jack adds a qualification “that this general principle does not translate into one of refusing to call for a referendum under all circumstances. Nor does it translate into a general principle of always responding to a referendum organised by our enemies with a corresponding call for an active boycott”.

Jack illustrates this by reminding us that the CPGB “urged a ‘yes’ vote in Ireland’s May 2015 referendum on gay marriage; the same with Ireland’s May 2018 referendum on abortion. And, in the UK, while being critical of the Liberal Democrat proposal for reforming the parliamentary voting system, the CPGB called for a ‘yes’ in the May 5 2011 referendum”.

At first I had to admit to struggling with this flexible concept of ‘principle’. Maybe we are arguing about the meaning of principles not referenda? I needed to think again. Principles are principles and we have to stand by them on all (or virtually all) occasions.

In Left Wing Communism Lenin reminds us we can compromise our principles. “No compromises” is an ultra left slogan. If we are held up by an armed robber we may have to compromise by handing over our wallet. We live to fight another day. So Jack is right to say the CPGB were not being ultra left when they compromised their principles and handed over their wallets.

Jack confuses the issue by using the word “tactics”. Instead of principles, set aside by honest and necessary compromises, we have principles made meaningless by “tactics”. If every principle can be overthrown by the requirements of tactics we end up with opportunism.

Let us summarise the difference as follows: The CPGB opposes all referenda on principle. This is ‘strategic-programmatic’ opposition. The demand for a referendum cannot and does not appear in the CPGB minimum (or maximum) programme. On the odd occasion that the CPGB is forced to compromise it adopts tactical positions on voting ‘Yes, No, Abstain, or a Boycott’.

Hence the CPGB stood opposed an Irish referendum on gay marriage. Then the CPGB was forced to compromise and drop its opposition and decided to vote yes to gay marriage. This becomes ‘tailism’. Before adopting tactics the CPGB has to disentangle itself from a non-existent Kautskian principle.

By contrast working class democrats do not oppose referenda on principle. The demand for a referendum can appear in the minimum programme. There is no principle to be compromised. It is simply a ‘tactical question’. It is perfectly acceptable to call for a referendum before any other class has done so. It is a matter of analysing the conditions of the class struggle and making a tactical decision (Yes, No, Abstain, or Boycott’).

Let us return from principles to the present. A possible future referendum on the Tory Deal is directly connected to the 2016 referendum. In 2016 the CPGB opposed the referendum and called for a boycott. There was no mass boycott and no mood in the working class to prevent it. It was a theoretical idea based on Kautsky. I doubt if it had a single supporter who was not a member of the CPGB.

A Tory referendum designed by the Tories divided the working class. The interests of the European working class were best served if Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales voted to remain and England abstained. The following votes were cast for remain – Scotland 1.7 million, Northern Ireland 0.44 million and Wales 0.77 million. In England 10.5 million abstained.

Millions of workers voted on these lines. Unfortunately in Wales a majority voted to leave and in England not enough people abstained. Of course I do not claim that anybody read my blogs or letters in Weekly Worker. That would be ridiculous. Workers did what they thought was best in the circumstances. The case for democratic revolution was closely connected with how millions of working people were actually voting.

I did not advocate an All-UK abstention but explained that the working class in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales voting to remain was in the interests of democracy and the wider European working class. The central message was highlighting the link between the European question and the national question. Two years later, this truth shows that Ireland and Scotland (but hardly Wales) present special if not insurmountable problems for the Tory government and Labour Unionists.

Let me turn Dave Macauley’s letter in last week’s paper. He recognises my argument about the EU referendum is intimately bound up with the spectre of the national question. But he responds by standing four square with the Tories and Labour in defending what May called “our precious Union”. He has been taken in by the Anglo-British story in which English socialists defend the annexation of Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

He says my argument “seems analogous to that of ‘any defeat for imperialism is a victory for the working class’ – except that Scotland and Wales have never been oppressed nations. On the contrary, they have been integral parts of the monarchical UK state for centuries”. Slaves are not free because they are happy to be fully integrated into the household of their master.

As Marx said the English working class will never be free while it backs the Anglo-British control of Ireland. This was not separatism but internationalism against the chauvinism of English Unionism. Today we have a variation on the same theme. England will not be free from its Brexit nightmare while maintaining its annexation of Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The final point concerns Dave’s view of the present conditions. If England voted (marginally) to leave the EU and Scotland, Northern Ireland (and Wales) voted to remain, this would have revolutionary implications for the UK and its constitution. (Crisis of democracy, Weekly Worker – 2 August 2018). Brexit breached the constitutional walls holding reactionary English nationalism and democratic nationalism in Ireland and Scotland in check. Nobody can be sure how the Brexit ‘revolution’ will unravel.

Dave says “the first EU referendum has done nothing for the working class but sow division and stoke anti-migrant feeling”. It got rid of Cameron and Osborne. Now “a Tory Party in disarray has achieved little in talks with the EU, while Labour have been content to watch May squirm”. Both the ruling class and the working class are deeply divided.

The Tories are in chaos. There is no solution in sight. Politics is becoming more confrontational. Is Dave hoping and praying that ‘normal’ politics will be restored sometime soon? Dream on. The genie is out of the bottle. So the question posed by Dave is “How could the left use such a (referendum) vote in a revolutionary, and “not a reformist manner”?

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Ratification Referendum

On Monday Tory MP Justin Greening came out in favour of a second referendum. She proposed three questions and a system of prefential voting. The Labour Party is not in favour but did not rule it out. Therasa May said it would not happen under any circumstances. Politicians and parties are split between yes, no and maybe.

There will be a Tory Deal with the EU. There will be a process of ratification. The only question is who will be able to vote to ratify or reject it. It could be ratified by the Crown perhaps by the Privy Council. It could be endorsed by the Westminster parliament with its 1450 MPs and Lords having a “Meaningful Vote”. It could be ratified or rejected by 46 million people in a ‘Peoples referendum’.

Opposing a peoples vote means supporting the authority of the Crown-In-Parliament. There may be a case to oppose a ratification referendum but it is not based on general principles. This would find Weekly Worker automtically opposing the Irish referenda on gay marriage and abortion and the Scottish referendum on self determination and seperation. We cannot hide from the working class behind a big wall of ‘principles’.

We are not dealing with any old referenda at any old time but specifically in relation to the fight over the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. It is essential to distinguish “Repeat referendum” and “Ratification referendum”. The term “Second Referendum” is often used to confuse or obfuscate. We need to cut through that.

A Repeat referendum means asking the same question from 2016 – “Do you want to leave the EU”. It is claimed by the Right that leavers in the ruling elite want to overturn the result by running it again. The Irish case is cited. After the Treaty of Lisbon was voted down, the Irish government ran it again to get the result they wanted.

In principle there is no reason why a given nation should not be asked the same question again. People are then free to give the same answer or change their minds. Democracy is a process which involves learning more of the truth and thinking again. Elections every five years could be annual events. They are not “once in a life time” as Cameron described the 2014 Scottish referendum. Scotland’s IndieRef2 would be a Repeat referendum asking the same question as in 2014.

A Ratification referendum is different. It is not seeking to repeat the first EU referendum. It is asking a different question for the first time. “Do you support or reject the deal negotiated between Her Majesty’s Government and the EU?” The 1976 Common Market referendum was in effect a ratification of Ted Heath’s actual agreement to join the EU on known terms and not a decision to join in principle.

In England, Leave supporters often describe a Ratification referendum as a “second referendum” to suggest it is an attempt by anti-democratic forces to run the same event for a second time and get a different result. In January 2018 Nigel Farage mischievously called for a “second referendum”. He wanted to repeat the same question to put an end to the “moaning of politicians who had not accepted the previous vote” (Independent 11 January 2018).

Recently the University and College Union (UCU) circulated its members to consult on a ‘Second Referendum’. General Secretary Sally Hunt explained that “At its recent meeting the national executive committee (NEC) agreed to my recommendation that the union consult members on whether to support a second referendum on the final Brexit deal negotiated by the UK government”. Since there has not been a first referendum on the final deal, this displays a Faragean level of confusion.

We must be absolutely clear. Our slogan must be “No to a Second or Repeat referendum – Yes to a Ratification referendum”. Justin Greening called for a second referendum, containing both repeat and ratification type questions. It must be opposed, but not on the grounds that we oppose every referendum on principle, everywhere on every occasion.

In England there is a democratic case to oppose a Repeat referendum and support a Ratification referendum. The 2016 EU referendum divided the working class in England. A Repeat referendum would deepen that divide and play into the hands of the Tory Right, UKIP and the fascists. Corbyn is correct to rule out a Repeat referendum but wrong to oppose a Ratification referendum.

In Scotland the argument is different. A majority voted to remain, an important distinction between Leave-voting England and Remain-voting Scotland. There is no reason for Scottish Remain supporters to repeat this. Scottish Leave EU supporters may have a reason to call for a repeat, hoping Scotland may have changed its mind.

At the end of the day issue of a referendum is a tactical question in a struggle has divided the country into leave and remain. We need to locate the case for a referendum in the struggle between reactionaries and ultra lefts on side and liberals and democrats on the other.

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Liberals and Democrats

Last week Jack Conrad, writing in Weekly Worker (12 July 2018), made a case against a ‘peoples vote’ on the Tory Unionist deal to Exit the EU. He argued that all referenda should be opposed on principle. If any take place they should automatically be boycotted. He argued that behind the present call for a referendum stood the liberals and behind them various capitalists who wanted to halt Brexit.

In a short letter there is no time to deal with complex issues about whether it is right for communists to call for a “peoples vote” in the present conditions of the class struggle in July 2018. If we are opposed in principle then there are no circumstances to agitate for one. If we are opposed in principle then we do not need to waste time discussing which way to vote.

Jack makes valid critiicisms of referenda. But he crosses the road into ultra leftism when he tries to make a general principle out of his criticism. He says “our objection to a second EU referendum is exactly the same as our objection to the first. And it has nothing to do with opinion polls. Referendums are by their very nature undemocratic”.

Self determination referenda

Jacks arguments seem to rest on Kautsky’s views. Kautsky makes strong criticism but does not rule out referenda. Jack notes that “Kautsky claims that referenda might be useful in the weaker, less autocratic states” and says these “Maybe in the US, England and the English colonies, even under circumstances in France”). This is not principled opposition.

The big gap in Jack’s argument concerns the question of self determination. The Bolsheviks demanded the national question be settled by peaceful rather than violent means. The peaceful separation of the Czech and Slovaks is much better that than violence inflicted on the Iraqi working class by the ruling class trying to impose the Iraqi Union on Kurds, Shia and Sunni.

The RSDLP’s 1913 “Thesis on the National Question” (Lenin Collected works 19 p244) says Social Democrats should “b) demand the settlement of the question of such secession only on the basis of a universal, direct and equal vote of the population of a the given territory by secret ballot”. A referendum provides for a peaceful resolution of the national question. No principled opposition here just the opposite.

Democratic demands

Working class democrats are consistent champions of every kind of democratic demand. This does not mean being uncritical. There has to be critical appraisal of all forms of democracy under the rule of capital, such as elections, republics, universal suffrage, referenda and parliaments. This is not an argument to oppose them.

Working class democrats are critical of referenda. Jack gave us historical examples. It is the same approach that Lenin took to the republic. When Engels supported republican slogans he did so by reminding everybody of the limitations of a democratic republic. He had no illusions in universal suffrage or indeed any democratic demands in capitalist society. Criticism of the dangers and limitations of referenda is not, however, the same as opposing all and every one on principle.

Referenda are, like elections and other examples of universal suffrage, an opportunuity for millions to engage in political struggle. They are an opportunity for parties to engage, as the CPGB has done, in class struggle. They are of course political weapons, like elections, which are used by the capitalist class against the working class. Working class parties have learn the threats, dangers and opportunities.

Universal suffrage has been used in referenda and elections to bring dictators to power. Jack reminds us of the anti-democratic coup by Louis Bonaparte “endorsed by a rapidly called referendum, followed by a second in 1852, which made him emperor”. Hitler came to power in January 1933 after an election made the Nazis the largest party in the Reichstag. We cannot stop fascism by abolishing universal suffrage.

Who will decide? – Crown, parliament or people

When 100,000 people march through London demanding the right to vote on the Tory deal we are dealing with a mass democratic demand. Why should 46 million voters not have this right? I was expecting that communists, as the most militant democrats, to be in the vanguard of fighting for the right to vote by demanding working class demonstrations and more decisively political strikes.

Liberals have always been elitists who naturally prefer decisions to be taken by clever and educated people. They feel it is dangerous to allow the ignorant masses to have a say. If they had to choose between 635 MPs and over 800 Lords to decide on the EU or 46 million voters, the liberal elites prefer the former. When liberal Cameron posed as a ‘democrat’ by offering a referendum on the EU it was intended to be ‘advisory’ to parliament.

The ruling class are not going to concede another referenda if they can avoid it. This is clear from the Tory and Labour leaders. It is too risky. At present CPGB is supporting Tory-Labour front bench parliamentary leaders position that ratification of the Tory deal must be carried out by the Crown-In-Parliament alone and that working class people should not be allowed to vote. Their opposition is based on naked class interests and risk assessments.

The CPGB has based their position on a non-principle which negates the right of nations to self determination referenda. We might assume that the CPGB aggregate will discuss their view on the Tory deal and quite possibly vote against it or take no view.

Without any sense of irony, the same communists will vote to oppose the right of working class people to have a vote. Voting is just for Cabinet meetings, the Commons and Lords, or CPGB aggregates. It is a class question and we must demand the rights of the working class to ‘interfere’ with the prerogatives of the Crown and Parliament.

 

Posted in The Referendum: The Future of Europe | Leave a comment