English nationalism

In Weekly Worker (12 March 2020) Bob Smart criticises my comments on Royal Socialism and English nationalism by saying I “attack(s) Labour Party Marxists for not supporting the right of self-determination for Scotland and Wales. It is certainly true that this demand does not feature anywhere in the programme presented to the founding conference of the Left Labour Alliance in Sheffield. But then nor do women’s rights or the fight against austerity”.

He continues “On the other hand, it is a fact that John Bridge did explicitly raise this demand in a short speech, which defended the motion opposing Scottish independence moved by Matthew Jones. True, that was not mentioned in the Weekly Worker report. But, on the other hand, comrade Freeman was there – he was a visitor at the conference.

However, comrade Freeman now opposes the Marxist perspective of a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales, in which Scotland and Wales have the right to self-determination. Instead he supports a separate Scotland, a separate Wales and a separate England”.

He ends by saying “Apparently, this break-up of Britain would be progressive. Rather like the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. In all probability such an outcome would result in a carnival of reaction, as workers are divided along petty nationalist lines. Surely the task of Marxists is to warn against that possibility and seek the maximum unity of the working class that objective circumstances permit”.

My reply on the question of a federal republic

Bob Smart (Weekly Worker 12 March 2020) says I “attack” rather than criticise Labour Party Marxists for not supporting the right for Scotland, Wales (and Ireland) to self determination, that is, to oppose the Union. Ending the monarchy, House of Lords and the Union is an “attack” on three reactionary pillars of the present constitution and an “attack” on those, like Bob, defending one or more of them.

Royal socialism is as stupid and ignorant as Unionist socialism. They might seem different but are branches of the same tree – the United (or Unionist) Kingdom. Hence the Labour Left conference can happily vote for a socialist United (Unionist) Kingdom. In Ireland it has long been obvious that republicanism and unionism are mortal foes in the battle for democracy. Scotland and Wales are on the same road a hundred years later.

Bob has no time for the Tory monarchy but clings to Tory Unionism for dear life. He admits that “It is certainly true that this demand (for self determination) does not figure anywhere” in the programme presented to the Labour Left alliance in Sheffield.

Last time I looked Sheffield was in England and this was a gathering of the English Labour Left with Bob and Matthew representing Wales and Scotland. Such an event in Cardiff or Edinburgh would not have been so forgetful.

Why should a gathering of the English left have such poor memory. It was politics not forgetfulness. Bob says John Bridge mentioned it in his speech. But then Weekly Worker ‘forgot’ to mention it in their report on the conference, which is why I wrote my letter.

It reminded me when German Social Democracy (in the 1890s) ‘forgot’ to include the demand for a republic in their programme. Engels and Lenin condemned this as opportunism, or lack of social democratic principle. It is the same allegation of opportunism against the English Labour Left. As soon as the going gets tough, this will suddenly bite them on the bum as it did when Corbyn was asked whether Scotland had the right to hold a referendum on self determination.

Next Bob makes a false statement about federal republicanism. I am in favour of a federal republic of Europe, otherwise identified as a republican united states of Europe. Of course I am in favour of the United Kingdom being dissolved into this republic. England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales would be equal nations in a European multi-nation state.

I am not in favour of a (British) federal republic inside a (European) federal republic. The very idea of a democratic Europe transcends any notion of a British state and renders the slogan of a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales historically obsolete. Bob would, however, be right to say that leaving the European Union resurrects his idea of a Great British Republic, only to see it crash on the rocks of the referendum and sink.

Marx’s approach to Ireland is instructive. At first he was in favour of England and Ireland being federated in one state. He changed his mind. He was then in favour of Ireland becoming independent. He thought that breaking the Union was revolutionary not simply for Ireland but for England too. He did not, however, rule out an independent Irish republic becoming part of a federal republic with England.

Marx was not dogmatic. First was the federation of England and Ireland rather than independence. Then he saw independence as a possible step to a federal republic. It would be for the Irish people, as a sovereign nation, to decide whether to join a federal republic with England or not.

So whilst leaving the EU has resurrected the idea of a federal republic of England, Scotland and Wales it has shown the only road to a republican future is through a reunification of Ireland and an independent Scotland. This should be obvious from the fact that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain and England and Wales voted to leave.

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Royal Socialism

As reported by Stan Keable in “A vision of royal socialism” (Weekly Worker 27 February 2020) the Labour Left Alliance (LLA) conference on 22 February 2020 was a significant event in the evolution of the Labour left, revitalised by the election of Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015. Stan reports that 130 delegates at the conference represented about 36 local and national Labour Left groups.

The Labour left in England has long been ‘social monarchist’ or Old Labour as it was known under the reign of Tony Blair. Social monarchism is the programme based on the 1945 Labour government which established a version of state capitalism with a ‘welfare state’ under the governance of the constitution of the Crown-In-Parliament, which Stan calls the “constitutional monarchist system”.

Corbyn’s social monarchist programme was to seen as a move towards ‘socialism’ by restoring some public ownership, the NHS, the welfare state, council housing and progressive taxation etc. Social monarchism is the trade unionist politics of the British working class. Its aim is to bargain with the ruling class and the employers for better terms and conditions for the working class. Labour and the trade unions are thus two sides – political and economic – of a better social contract agreed within the framework of the constitution of the UK ruling class.

Momentum was launched as the support group for Corbyn’s social monarchist programme with Jon Lansman becoming its unelected monarch after his 10 January 2017 ‘bureaucratic coup’. Left social-monarchists became increasingly disillusioned with him. This discontent was crystalised after he called for expulsion of Chris Williamson MP. Over two years later the Labour Left Alliance is a potential alternative Momentum.

Left social monarchism has no republican democratic programme. It conceals its ‘democratic deficit’ by concentrating on or prioritising economic and social reforms. It is ‘republican’ only in a token way, as a long term goal when socialism is won. In the meantime workers should bargain for social improvements and not seek political change.

A classic example of left social monarchism was in the motion from Cheltenham Labour Left which called for a “socialist UK”. This was passed by 63 to 53 votes. It is not just that a socialist Kingdom is a contradiction in terms. It shows the blind spot or lack of self awareness of the English Labour left. There is a complete absence or ignorance of the militant democratic republican politics of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Connolly and MacLean etc.

The Cheltenham Labour Left seems to consider the United Kingdom only as a geographical territory which can be filled with capitalist or socialist content. The UK is a state and law through which the ruling class exercises its control over a given territory. In law it is an undemocratic union state, comprised of different nations. This is not the means through which the working class can socialise the economy.

A combined and uneven democratic transformation or democratic revolution will not leave the current Union undisturbed. The 2016 referendum on the EU has already shown that Ireland and Scotland are on a different trajectory. English left social monarchists haven’t noticed this, much less drawn any political conclusions.

It is significant that of the ten bullet points with which Stan sums up the political achievements of the Sheffield conference, nine were organisational and only one set a strategic political goal. This stated that the Labour Left Alliance stands for the “free movement of people”.

It seems that the Labour Party Marxists played an important role in supporting the organisation of left social monarchists. Their aim was to win the Labour Party to communism with the London Labour Left Alliance (London LLA) as a vehicle for a united front of communists and left social monarchists. With this in mind the London LLA, under the influence of the Labour Party Marxists, proposed that communism should be the aim.

This is in the resolution from London LLA on aims and principles. This called for “opposition to capitalism, imperialism, racism and militarism and the ecological degradation of the planet… a commitment to socialism as the rule of the working class”. This would move towards full communism as “a stateless, classless moneyless society” who carried out the communist principle of “from each according to their abilities ….etc”

The communist programme from London LLA was voted down by about two thirds to one third of delegates. The influence of social monarchism runs deep in the Labour left. Stan fails to mention that hidden within the London LLA aims was a democratic republican programme.

This calls for “achieving a democratic republic. The standing army, the monarchy, the House of Lords and the state sponsorship of the Church of England must go. We support a single chamber parliament, proportional representation and annual elections”. Whilst this is supportable it falls down badly in its implicit acceptance of English nationalism (i.e. Anglo-British nationalism).

England is by far the dominant nation in the British Union. No revolutionary working class republican would ignore the right of Ireland, Scotland and Wales to self determination. Neither would militant republicans give any support whatsoever to the anti-democratic Acts of Union. Supporting British Unionism is the litmus test of English social chauvinism.

The conclusion from Sheffield must be that the Labour left is disorientated by Corbyn’s defeat but is still following the political programme of social monarchism. Counter posing the communist maximum programme to this simply lets Labour left reformism off the hook. The immediate task is not about communism but taking the only road towards it through consistent working class democracy which means winning the working class to the minimum republican programme.

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Hong Kong

I thought Corbyn did well against ‘All Mouth and No Trousers’ in the Great Debate. He had the best one liner about suffering nine years under the Tory ‘Coalitions of Chaos’. We nearly went ‘all constitutional’ when Johnson said the institution of the monarchy is above reproach and Corbyn said it needs improvement. Both swore to defend the Union by opposing another Scottish referendum. Johnson will never allow it and Corbyn kicked it somewhere into the long grass and nobody quite knows where.

Republicans call for the monarchy to be scrapped and support Scotland’s right to self determination. The Scottish people must have the right to decide if they want a referendum on independence. It is not for a Johnson or Corbyn government to deny people their democratic rights. Republicans should oppose the whole of the UK leaving the EU (British Exit) but as democrats recognise the referendum result and as socialists recognise the significance of a divided working class.

Republicans understand the mandate from England and Wales to leave and Northern Ireland and Scotland voting to remain. Nobody voted to leave the single market or the customs union. There is no mandate for that. Listening to how people voted and delivering those mandates leads to a ‘Denmark-Greenland’ (one state-two nations) deal. This or any deal must be put to the people in a ratification referendum which allows all resident EU citizens and all sixteen and seventeen year olds to vote.

Corbyn has not adopted the republican position on the EU (or the monarchy or Scotland) but is not far away. He was weakest on the EU where he lacked a clear answer. On Brexit he has a good story to tell. He is a ‘remain-democrat’ who campaigned for remain but accepted the majority (in England and Wales) voted to leave. As a socialist he is right to make the issue of a divided working class central to his position. He has fought every Tory Brexit – the May Deal, No Deal and the Johnson Deal and played a major role in stopping the UK leaving on 29 March and 31 October.

If Johnson wins a majority and can get his deal through the Commons then the demand for a ratification referendum is a valid democratic demand. Republicans should continue to oppose a second referendum or a remain question. If Corbyn wins a majority then Labour has a mandate to negotiate a soft Labour Brexit and then offer a referendum with a remain question.

Corbyn appears to be boxed in by a hypothetical question of how he would vote if he became PM and then negotiated a softer Labour Brexit. He cannot simply say “remain” since this would destroy the credibility of his negotiating plan. But he should say he intends to negotiate a “Great Deal” which can win a majority in the country. Then he will recommend voting for it as the best way to unite people.

However if it turns out he only achieves a “Moderately Good” deal he can tell the people to vote against it. That is what trade union negotiators can do. Once a deal is done and the fine print is clear any honest trade union negotiator could urge workers either to support it or reject it depending on how good it is. Hence Corbyn can say what he will recommend either Deal or Remain which cannot be known until the negotiations are complete.

Neither this TV debate nor even the royal crisis over the ‘Prince and the Paedophile’ is the most significant event this week. The most important is the heroic struggle by young democrats in Hong Kong. They have put up a brave and tremendous battle against the violence of the Hong Kong police fully armed with gas and guns and every possible weapon.

It has been inspiring to see their revolutionary democratic struggle against overwhelming force. It looks like they have been defeated. However it seems they have kept the continuing support of the majority of Hong Kong people who are still coming out on the streets in solidarity and bravely shouting abuse at their brutal police. Hong Kong workers are the key to victory. What starts in Hong Kong cannot stay there. The Tories sold Hong Kong to China without democracy and the right to vote. Hong Kong’s ‘crisis of democracy’ has led to the brink of a democratic revolution which needs actions by millions of working people to win.

20 November 2019

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Grenfell Election

The Tories want this to be the “Brexit election” and in one sense it will be. But it must also be the Grenfell election. It is the first general election since the tragedy on the 14 June 2017. Seventy two people were killed in a death trap, which had been waiting for an accident to happen. This was the biggest single loss of life in London since World War Two.

The politics of Grenfell should be front and centre of this campaign. The election is a democratic opportunity to make the Tory government accountable. It should be one of the central issues raised in every election meeting and by everybody canvassing on the door step. A good starting point was Corbyn’s speech in the Commons on 28 June 2017 attacking the policies which contributed to the disaster, including forty percent cuts in local authority budgets and the failure of building inspections.

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, hit back saying that dangerous cladding and lax inspection began under the last Labour government. Of course the allegation of criminal negligence goes beyond the policies of one party or one government to the Crown-state itself as represented in this case by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

May was correct when she told the House of Commons that Grenfell was a “failure of the state – local and national”. Even here a cover up was already going on. She admitted the state had failed to help the victims but only after the fire. She said “that people were left without belongings, without roofs over their heads, without even basic information about what happened, what they should do and where they should go to seek help” (Express 22 June 2017).

The state had failed long before that. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government is a bureaucracy protected behind a wall of secrecy. It depends for its funding on HM Treasury. It is not democratically accountable for its actions or its failures. It failed to invest in housing and in fire safety and to regulate landlords and building firms making money out of renovations or ensure that the London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea worked to protect its tenants and residents.

The Grenfell disaster is the responsibility of the Tory government and its policies and behind this the failure of the bureaucratic state. In a crisis, the Crown-state reaches for its Standard Operating Procedures. Set up a public inquiry headed by one of Her Majesty’s ex Judges and divert attention away from those responsible at the very top. Then build a non-political monument to all who died.

The government set up the Grenfell Memorial Commission in September 2018. The Secretary of State for Communities, Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, said: “The government has always been committed to working with the community to create a fitting memorial, with the Prime Minister giving her personal commitment that the bereaved, survivors and community will decide what happens to the future of the Grenfell Tower site”.

At the same time the London Fire Brigade (LFB) has been put in the frame by the Grenfell Inquiry. There has been a drip feed of stories pointing to the LFB and what happened after the fridge freezer on the fourth floor flat burst into flames. Before a single fire-engine has arrived everything that brought disaster was already in place, months or years before.

There were no extra high ladders, sufficient breathing equipment, sprinkler systems, strong fire doors and necessary training were all missing. Covering the walls with flammable cladding made the building into a death trap. Most of these factors are down to insufficient investment in public services and failure of the state to ensure the health, safety and welfare of the people. It was the failure of the state to regulate and inspect the safety of buildings. Without real democracy there is nothing to compel the state to listen or act.

The controversial question focused whether more people could have escaped on the night? Here the finger is pointed at the ‘stay put’ policy. If flats are sealed concrete shells it is safer to stay and be rescued. Going down whilst fire-fighters are coming up could disrupt fire rescue and most deaths come from deadly toxic smoke and fumes.

‘Stay Put’ was a national not a London policy. Similar fire-hazards were awaiting ignition in tower blocs throughout England. Over one hundred and ninety local councils across the country had fitted fire-dangerous cladding to their tower blocks. The problem is in the bureaucratic failure of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government so far avoiding all scrutiny.

‘Stay put’ was the story that Jacob Rees-Mogg blundered into, reminding the country that class is at the heart of it. He displayed the ignorance and crass insensitivity of his class. As Stormzy said “this isn’t about politics it’s about the people who govern us lacking the most basic humanity or empathy”.

This disaster shines a powerful light on contemporary Britain. It shows the consequences of thirty years of failed economic policies. It is a powerful reminder the UK is a deeply class divided society and that life’s chances depend on which class you are born into. It brings out the nature of political power in the UK’s broken ‘democracy’.
Unaccountable political decisions, taken by national and local government in England, were paid for by death, injury and life changing trauma.

6 November 2019

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Election at last

In Weekly Worker back in July (1) I argued that “The election of Johnson as Prime Minister is a time to reflect on the dangers the working class movement now faces. Johnson can win as long as he avoids imposing a no-deal Brexit and avoids a general election before the UK leaves the EU on 31 October. After the deal is ratified by the Commons, Johnson will use this patriotic kudos to call and win a general election”.

How could this happen? “We can only guess how Johnson will get his revised May-deal. The most straightforward is to draw the economic border with the EU down the Irish Sea and do the checks in Liverpool etc. There is then no need for an Irish backstop. Of course Johnson will have to throw the DUP under the bus. Yet the Tory rank and file have already said they would happily lose Ireland if only they could get Brexit and defeat Corbyn”. (1)

In October the Sunday Times editorial came to a similar conclusion – “A Prime Minister who has delivers Brexit would be in a strong position to inflict a heavy defeat on a hopeless Labour leader, particularly one around whom the vultures in his own party are already circulating”. (2). The birds of prey, Swinson, Watson, Blair, Starmer, Thornberry and McDonnell were seen in the skies squawking for a second referendum to finally finish Corbyn off.

Rachel Sylvester (3) noted that “most Labour MPs would prefer to have a (remain) referendum first. Some of them hate the idea of campaigning for a hard-left Labour leader to become PM, others fear that the party’s position on Europe is so confused that they would haemorrhage votes”. So the last battle in the Commons had Corbyn securing Labour backing for a general election not a second referendum.

It is perhaps no coincidence with Corbyn’s victory came in the same week that the Peoples Vote campaign split. The underlying or unseen tension is between two polar extremes – a democratic demand for a ratification referendum and the liberal demand for remain question in a ‘second referendum. The democrats confront the liberals.

The demand for a second remain referendum has no majority in parliament and no majority support in the country. The liberals are trying to overthrow the 2016 referendum without the backing of the majority of the working class. This is straight from the anarcho-liberal playbook of Swinson-Watson etc. The only purpose of this nonsense on stilts was, like the Zionist campaign, to undermine or destroy Corbyn.

The tension between the more democratic and more liberal sides of People’s Vote campaign burst out into the open this week as confrontation between millionaire business man Roland Rudd, who wants an ultra remain campaign, and James McGrory, Tom Baldwin and Patrick Heneghan who want to appeal to leave voters (which a second referendum slogan cannot!)

It is a long time since Prime Minister David Cameron told Corbyn he should resign -“For heaven’s sake man, go!” Every day since then the main stream national media attacked Corbyn as the worst Labour leader ever, opposed even by his own MPs, many of whom say he is not fit to be PM. Yet Corbyn has seen off Cameron and May and had a central role in keeping the UK in the EU by the absolute deadline of 29 March 2019.

Then Labour led the fight to stop No-Deal by building a giant barricade. Despite Johnson getting his deal by selling out the DUP, he was blocked from his ‘die in a ditch’ total absolute deadline of 31 October. Thwarted again, Johnson was forced to get an extension until 30 January 2020. If Labour wins the general election we will still be in the EU by September 2020.

This is surely the greatest example of guerrilla warfare since Fidel Castro, with only nineteen supporters, more than Corbyn has in the PLP, conducted a brilliant campaign in the Sierra Maestra mountains. No wonder Corbyn hailed Fidel Castro as a “champion of social justice” (4) whilst Boris Johnson compared Corbyn “to Fidel Castro, Goldilocks and Count Dracula”. (5)

By pretending to be useless, Corbyn has lured or even forced the Tories into two general elections in two years despite having a law which only allows it once every five years! He held his nerve and has now come out fighting for an election. While he is doing that, he has at least a chance with an army of close to half a million ready to go to war against Tory Brexit and their anti-working class austerity policies.

Who would have a chance against the combined leadership of Castro, Goldilocks and Dracula? Not many. So the last word belongs to the Tory, Andrew Gimson. “Corbyn, the disregarded Corbyn, may turn out to have greater affinity with Middle England than opinion polls suggest. He could be the underdog who was underestimated”. (5) Soon we will find out the next twist in the Brexit revolution.

30 October 2019

1. Weekly Worker 1261 25 July 2019
2. Sunday Times13 October 2019).
3. Times 15 October 2019
4. Independent 26 November 2016
5. Conservative Home – Andrew Gimson 30 October 2019

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No Surrender – a republican case against British Exit

Ireland and Tory Brexit

Steve Freeman and Phil Vellender consider the importance of Irish republicanism in the fight against Tory Brexit and how we should answer Tory populist slogans about ‘parliament versus the people’.

The Tories had set the coming general election as a confrontation between the ‘parliament and the people’. Boris Johnson planned to represent the ‘will of the people’ and champion the fight against the liberal elites blocking Brexit. Her Majesty’s Government will deliver Brexit and pump money into the police and the NHS and order the employing class to raise the living wage offering to bribe us with billions of (our own) taxpayer’s money. The Queen read the Tory Brexit manifesto from the throne.

The essence of Tory Brexit is to leave the single market and customs union. Nobody voted for this. It was not on the ballot paper. Yet the Tories stole the mandate and refashioned it into a weapon for their master-plan of neo-liberal ‘global Britain’, for trade war against the EU and class war against the working class.

Leaving the single market and customs union opened up a fundamental contradiction between an open border within Ireland and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This peace treaty accepted Northern Ireland would remain in the UK with a peaceful economic and social integration of Ireland through the institutions of the European Union. Ireland has always been the major stumbling block for Tory Brexit.

Theresa May’s version of Tory Brexit was defeated by the combination of Irish republicanism and Her Majesty’s Opposition. Corbyn took away May’s majority in the 2017 general election and put her government in hock to the Democratic Unionist Party. Since Sinn Fein is absent from the Commons, Irish republicanism appears in the guise of its mortal enemy, as a party whose raison d’etre is opposition to Irish unity. Theresa May invented the all-UK Irish backstop to placate them before they finally sank her.

The Johnson government faces the same problem – Irish republicanism and Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader is trying to marshal his rebellious MPs behind a ‘Labour Brexit’ which addresses a divided working class. His stance, as a ‘remain-democrat’, recognises this. His victory at the Labour conference offers the best chance of keeping the Parliamentary Labour Party sufficiently united to prevent any Tory Brexit before 31 October, if Labour is to have a chance of winning the general election.

Irish republicanism

Irish republicanism has long opposed British Crown powers used in Ireland. The fight for popular sovereignty, the rights of nations to self determination and the right for the Irish people to ratify constitutional treaties was recognised by the Good Friday Agreement. This might seem irrelevant in the rest of the UK, but it is part of a wider European democratic republican culture with relevant experience for England, Scotland and Wales.

Republicanism informs a democratic approach to the problems posed by the 2016 EU referendum not least in recognising the rights of nations to self determination. Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU and England and Wales voted to leave. These mandates represent the sovereign ‘will of the people’ and form the parameters for any negotiated settlement.

Any agreement along these lines, or indeed any other agreement, must be put back to the people in a ratification referendum. The people of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have democratic reasons to oppose Tory Brexit on different grounds from the Labour Party.

This republican case is not in itself a demand for a united Ireland or an independent Scotland. However, it rejects the assumptions and presumptions of British Unionism. It is based on democracy, internationalism and solidarity as the only means of bringing nations closer together. Hence the working class in England must not participate in, or give any support whatsoever, to the imposition of an Anglo-British exit on Ireland and Scotland.

Social republicans go beyond a purely democratic case against Brexit by recognising the interests of working people. The EU was set up in the interests of European business and finance. Trade unions and working people have no illusions in the EU and oppose any measures which worsen working class rights and conditions. Hence, there is both a democratic and a social case for the Northern Ireland and Scotland remaining, while the whole of the UK stays in the single market and customs union.

New Irish Deal

The Johnson government’s new proposals to leave the single market and customs union have made Northern Ireland a special case. This has been dubbed “Two borders for four years” with a ratification vote, initially to confirm the deal, but repeated every four years. Northern Ireland would remain in the single market with a regulatory border down the Irish Sea. It would leave the Customs union and this would necessitate a customs border between the Irish republic and Northern Ireland with customs checks in multiple locations away from the geographical land border.

Johnson had added the proposal that Northern Ireland is not subject to the EU’s so-called ‘level playing field’ requirements, which ensure minimum standards on workers’ rights, social conditions and environmental standards. This confirms the free market ‘race to the bottom’ aims of Tory Brexit.

This shift was not the end of the Tory compromise. The meeting between Johnson and Leo Veradka showed Johnson on a slippery slope to a predictable reality. (There now seems to be a new proposal to keep the whole of Ireland in the customs union). According to the Sunday Times “Johnson has been influence by Sedwell (Sir Mark Sedwell, Cabinet Secretary), who is also national security advisor, and by Michael Gove who had received security briefings “which he is said to have found sobering”. It is Irish republicanism not the DUP that has shaken them. (Sunday Times 13 October 2019)

The Johnson plan is significant from a republican perspective. The DUP backed the Crown’s original proposals and thus ‘sold out’ its previously declared principle that Northern Ireland could not have any agreement different to the rest of the UK. This ‘fear of republicanism’ party has shifted ground, perhaps belatedly recognising no-deal would alienate its business and farming base and increase support for a united Ireland.

Northern Ireland would now have unique arrangements. This is a concession to secure a deal in the interests of the City of London. Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) has now recognised that Northern Ireland has a right to ratify the withdrawal treaty with the EU. This right is confined to the Northern Ireland executive and Assembly rather than the Irish people. But there is no reason why the people of Northern Ireland and indeed the rest of Ireland, as in 1998, could not vote to ratify any deal.

Northern Ireland is a ‘special’ case owing to the long struggle for a united Ireland and because, in 2016, a majority voted to remain. The republican case is that these rights should be extended to Scotland which like Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. Every national parliament (Scotland and Wales) should have the right to ratify and should extend this right the people. Although there is no English parliament, the people of England should have the same right to ratify any agreement.

Crown versus Parliament

Since 1945, UK politics centred in Westminster has been a contest between two class based parties, Tory and Labour, under the unionist constitution of the Crown-In-Parliament. Between 1975 and 1998 this changed as the UK joined the European Economic Community, agreed the Good Friday Agreement and set up devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales. The 2014 Scottish referendum and the 2016 EU referendum brought ‘the people’ into the constitutional equation further exposing the democratic deficit and the ‘crisis of democracy’.

The Brexit crisis took shape in the struggle between the Crown and Parliament. Disputes have ranged over triggering Article 50 and whether the Crown or parliament has the right to ratify treaties with the EU. It led to battles over the rights of the Speaker and the House of Commons to control the parliamentary agenda with echoes from 1642. The Roundheads fired off the Benn Act and the Royalists replied with a volley of prorogation.

This has raised issues about the inner workings of the Crown. Did Johnson mislead the queen into legitimising an unlawful prorogation? Did he tell her the truth and she simply supported it. Did she know or suspect this was unlawful and undemocratic and do nothing about it? If Prime Ministers abuse their power does the head of state take action or simply rubber stamp decisions and legitimatise them?

Royalists always shield the monarch from criticism by claiming she had no choice except to do as she is told by her First Minister. If this is true, the monarch would, like the King of Italy, give legitimacy to an elected Mussolini acting to remove, or end, democratic rights. If Prime Ministers abuse their power does the head of state take action or simply rubber stamp decisions and legitimatise them? In any serious political crisis, constitutional monarchy reveals itself as useless or dangerous.

The depth of the crisis is indicted when the Queen is drawn into political controversy which normal politics seeks to avoid at all costs. The UK is shrouded in a constitutional fog where secrecy and oaths of loyalty conceal most of what is really going on. It reminds of the role of the third ‘parliament’, the Privy Council, along with the more well-known Commons and Lords. The monarch intervenes through her Privy Council of the ‘Great and Good’.

Jacob Rees Mogg described the process. It begins with the Prime Minister giving the Queen ‘Advice’. For all we know it may be discussed in the Queen’s weekly audience with her PM (chief executive). However, the monarch normally approves the ‘Advice’, but could reject it with serious constitutional implications. In practice, decisions are worked out before hand between Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, through the Queen’s Private Secretary and the Cabinet Secretary.

As a Privy Councillor, Jacob Rees Mogg went to Balmoral Castle for a Privy Council meeting with the Queen. (LBC Nick Ferrari 15 October 2019). He simply asked her if she agrees (to the use her Crown powers) to prorogue parliament. She replied “Approved” and then it became legal to implement the decision. Rees-Mogg did not lie to the Queen because this is a ‘rubber stamp’ process with no discussion. It was a significant precedent when this rubber stamp decision was overruled by the Supreme Court.

Parliament versus the people

The democratic struggle between Crown power and Westminster over their shared sovereignty has been the major battle. The Tories, both May and Johnson, have tried to flip this into populist demagogic terms about ‘parliament versus the people’. Johnson has set the coming general election as a confrontation between these two institutions

The Crown is not a democratic organisation. Johnson is not a representative of the people because they did not elect him. He was elected MP in one constituency and then chosen by his party which represents the interests of big business and the City of London. The Tories do not have majority of votes but a majority of seats. Johnson is selected by the monarch if the Tories have a majority and then inducted into the power structures and secrets of the Crown through the oaths of allegiance.

The responsibility for the ‘Brexit crisis’ has to be placed fairly and squarely with the Crown, not least with its chief executives, Cameron, May and Johnson. Negotiations have been conducted without consultation or transparency. So far, bad deals with the EU have failed to win a majority in parliament. After three years, nothing has been brought back to the people for democratic ratification.

Boris Johnson has appropriated English nationalism, appointing himself ‘Minister of the Union’, and adopting populist rhetoric about “people versus parliament”, in which the Crown represents the ‘will of the people’ to ‘get Brexit done’. This is designed to scapegoat parliament for the failure of the Crown to deliver a democratic agreement supported by parliament and the people.

Republicanism is the democratic answer to Tory populism. The socialist movement must warn the Tories that dabbling in authoritarian populism opens a can of worms. Working people must not vote to give the Crown more power to act as an elected dictatorship. The answer is to take power and become sovereign and liberate parliament from all monarchical institutions and Crown powers.

The Brexit fiasco is exposing the power of the Crown and the weakness of parliament within an antiquated unwritten constitution. This is creating the conditions for more authoritarian government to take over or for some kind of a popular democratic revolution. A political crisis is brewing which demands democratic answers with citizens’ assemblies, a parliament for England, a republican written constitution with the right of constituent nations to self determination.

14 October 2019

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Crossing the Rubi-con

Jack Conrad makes many useful insights and observations on the crisis faced by Corbyn and the socialist movement. (Weekly Worker 3 October 2019). But he ruins it with his central theory that “Communists reject referendum. These are a con – a means of fooling the people”.

The first statement is untrue or worse a lie, that is an untruth repeated when it is known to be false. The second statement is true. But it doesn’t mean all people are fooled all of the time, unless you think the masses are biologically ignorant or stupid. Even then, a communist answer to ignorance is participation in struggle not the principle of boycott.

I won’t repeat all the evidence on boycott except to remind readers that the Bolshevik programme advocated a referendum as a means of a (relatively) peaceful and democratic resolution to the national question. The right of nations to self determination without the right for a nation to vote on separation is a ‘con’. To put it simply the Bolsheviks preferred and advocated a referendum to having a civil war between nations.

Jack’s fundamental mistake is to raise one way of voting in liberal democracy as uniquely bad as “a means of fooling people”. This is the method of anarchism or ‘con-munism’. The list is massive. Capitalism (con), general elections (con), Labour Party (con), universal suffrage (con) are all means of “fooling the people” and not forgetting my favourite the ‘republi-con’.

Politics, in capitalist societies, in all its guises is designed as “a means of fooling people”. No communist should disagree with this. But anarchists believe that boycott is the answer, unless they change their minds. They would boycott the Irish referenda on gay marriage and abortion. They would change their minds if it seems a good idea or is not worth being condemned as a reactionary. As Groucho Marx said “these are my principles, and if you don’t like them…well, I have others”.

Now we turn to poor old Jeremy, who is doing better than most ignorant and stupid people imagine. He is in a hole. So he turns to Labour Party Marxists for advice. He believes they are a voice of the working class and not a con. He might ask “what is the road to socialism”? Labour Marxists might say “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you?” They might say “give up because con-munism is the only answer”.

Alternatively they might say “lets fight together to defeat Johnson with a working class strategy and tactics related to the actual balance of forces”. Should Corbyn call for a referendum? (No) Should he demand a general election now (No) or sooner or later (No)? Should he try to remove the dangerous Johnson from office? (No) Should he call a vote of no confidence? (No) Should he become a Caretaker PM? (No) Should he support another MP as Caretaker PM? (No) Should he call for a government of national disunity? (No) Is there anything else that makes sense? (No)

Jack has blocked and barricaded up every escape route and not just the blind alleys. The LPM seems no better. They have no answers and no way out of the cul-de-sac, having blocked off all the exits. Since it is easy to argue against every option, it is only fair to rise to the same challenge.

The Tory referendum has given the mantle of ‘democracy’ to the Right. The democratic answer to these reactionary ‘democrats’ who are ‘fooling the people’, is to listen to the people.

In 2016, the collective view of working people through their majorities was for England and Wales to leave the EU and Northern Ireland and Scottish to remain. Nobody voted to leave the single market or customs union. This is what every democrat should demand. This deal or any other deal (including a no-deal ‘clean break’) must be put to the people in a ratification (Yes/No) referendum.

This is simple, democratic and easy to understand. But it is impossible to fathom if your head is full of English (or Anglo-British) chauvinist and unionist crap which of course swamps the Labour Party. Corbyn was moulded politically in the same swamp.

Yet the interesting point is that it is close to, but different from, the position he and the Labour Party have taken. Corbyn has ignored the voters on Northern Ireland and Scotland. He hasn’t fully embraced the single market including EU free movement. Corbyn’s instinct is for the trade union idea of a ratification referendum, but as Jack says, he “has been dragged into adopting a second referendum”. As Jack recognises it is a big mistake to feed red meat to the reactionary ‘democrats’.

Of course the main task is to defeat Tory Brexit including the danger from No-Deal. Stopping Tory Brexit – whether defeating a Johnson deal or stopping no-deal – is the key to a Labour government. He could be ousted by a temporary caretaker government to call a general election or defeated in an election he calls.

The caretaker option is extremely unlikely because the liberals and reactionaries fear Corbyn more than Brexit or Johnson. Of course there can be no support for anybody other than Corbyn while he is leader of the Labour Party and Her Majesty’s Opposition. If by some miracle Johnson gets a deal that must be put for ratification to the people, because parliament might agree with a section of Labour MPs voting for it.

So far because of his principled opposition to all referendum, Jack has failed to recognise the distinction between a ratification and a second or repeat referendum with remain option. However he says “while opinion polls show a clear majority wanting a “say” on any final Brexit deal, the result of a second referendum is far from certain”.

This tells us everything that we need to know. The people want to ratify or reject any deal (having a “say”) but are divided over the wisdom of re-running with a remain option reinforcing divisions in the working class.

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Corbyn’s victory

Today (24 September 2019) two major Brexit battles came to a head. The first was the vote at the Labour Party conference won by Corbyn and his allies. The second is the verdict at the Supreme Court that the Crown’s decision to prorogue parliament was illegal. Republicans have views on both but I will concentrate on Brexit.

Corbyn won an important victory at conference which should help defeat Tory Brexit and by occupying the centre ground have more chance to win the next election. As republicans and socialists we should critically support Corbyn’s battle against the ultra remain position of Watson, Thornberry, Blair and Starmer etc.

Labour’s position is clear enough despite the Tories claiming that you have to be a genius to understand it. Vote Labour and if Labour wins there will be a new set of negotiations and any deal will be put to the people in a referendum with a remain option. Once the deal has been done Labour will look at the facts and decide how it will campaign.

Republicans can identify three ways to leave the EU – Tory Brexit, Labour Brexit and Republican Exit. It is important to draw sharp lines between them. Strictly speaking ‘Brexit’ means the exit of the whole of the UK state. By contrast, republicans support the right of nations to self determination.

The Tories are determined to take the whole UK out of the single market and customs union. This is essential to their plan to impose a new and more hostile immigration regime on working people and open up the NHS and the UK domestic market to US corporate raiders and trade deals and to keep the City of London beyond EU regulation. There was no mandate for any of this.

A Labour Brexit was promised in the 2017 manifesto. In 2018 Labour conference added a ratification referendum. This should keep the UK in the single market and the customs union, both on democratic grounds and because it is in the best interests of the working class to oppose Tory Brexit. Current Labour policy only speaks of ‘close alignment to the single market’.

A republican exit recognises that England and Wales voted to leave and Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain and therefore supports a deal which delivers the mandates from the UK’s constituent nations. This rejects the imposition of a UK exit on Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Republicans point out that nobody voted to leave the single market or the customs union because it was not on the ballot paper. Furthermore republicanism supports a ratification referendum making government more accountable to the people. It should be noted that a republican-exit for England and Wales is a republican-remain in Scotland and Northern Ireland. English exit and Irish remain are united by recognition of the rights of nations to self determination.

Republicans should support a ratification referendum which is quite different to a second referendum or the inclusion of a remain question to reverse the 2016 decision. This is a matter of tactics and timing. Put simply, there is no point a refighting the last war and coming up with more or less the same result. It is a dangerous gamble with the unity of the working class.

Since 2017 three trends have been fighting it out – ultra-Leave, remain-democrats and ultra-remain. Some object to the term ‘remain-democrats’ so we could call them the ‘centre’ ground between the two extreme positions. Nevertheless I still think the political centre is best identified as ‘remain-democrats’ who are in favour of remaining but accept the 2016 result (or some version of it).

The centre (remain-democrats) include a broad range of views from Ken Clarke and Dominic Grieve, to Stephen Kinnock and Lisa Nandy who are on the right-Centre. Jeremy Corbyn and Len McLuskey stand at the centre of the Centre. Republican exit should be located on the left of centre, as left remain-democrats.

In parliamentary terms the important difference is between Kinnock and his right-centre allies (40 MPs) and the Corbyn centre. Kinnock is prepared to support an anti-working class Tory Brexit in order to get Brexit done. He may back another Theresa May deal or a Johnson deal (May Mark 2). If Johnson delivers a Tory Deal, Kinnock and his Labour allies will line up with the Tories in parliament to deliver victory for Johnson. This will make Johnson’s victory in the subsequent general election more likely if not certain.

The Labour conference was the battle ground between Corbyn’s remain-democrat approach in the guise of Labour Brexit and a broad array of ultra remainers led by Watson, Thornberry, Starmer and the Blairites. As conference recognised Watson saw ultra remain as a way of undermining Corbyn and making sure he could not win the election. Fortunately Corbyn carried the day.

Had the ultra remain succeeded in defeating Corbyn’s Labour Brexit it would have liberated the Kinnock group to back a Tory Brexit, like the May Deal, if Johnson can find one. The consequence of an ultra-remain victory at the conference would therefore increase the likelihood that the UK would leave the EU on 31 October.

Corbyn’s victory has cut down or reduced the likelihood of the Kinnock Group of MPs being able to betray the working class in the name of the 2016 referendum. It increases the possibility of Labour winning the next general election as the only party that will let the people decide. Labour will have a case to appeal to both parts of a divided working class.

The reckless ultra-remain see tactics, not as an assessment of the balance of forces, but an opportunity for virtue signalling. Look at me the ‘Peacock of Remainers’ who don’t mind if the UK leaves the EU on 31 October as long as we can parade and preen like Emily Thornbury, Tom Watson or Jo Swinson.

Republicans in England should position themselves in the remain-democrat camp or on the centre ground and to the left of Corbyn within the same political space. Republicans should give critical support for Corbyn against ultra leave and ultra remain whilst criticising Corbyn’s inconsistent democratic stance and the danger of a remain question on the ballot before the case has been won and public opinion has shifted significantly.

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Johnson’s victory

he election of Johnson as Prime Minister is a time to reflect on the dangers the working class movement now faces. Johnson can win as long as he avoids imposing a no-deal Brexit and avoids a general election before the UK leaves the EU on 31 October. After the deal is ratified by the Commons, Johnson will use this patriotic kudos to call and win a general election.

In 2016 the centre ground shifted as millions of people voted to leave the EU in England and Wales and to remain in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Nobody voted to leave the single market and the customs union. Of course any deal negotiated with the EU must be referred back to the people for ratification.

Labour’s policy was very close to occupying this centre ground. After 2016 Labour became a ‘remain-democrat’ party signalled by Corbyn agreeing to trigger article 50. This policy was then set out in the 2017 Labour Manifesto and the 2018 Labour conference policy. It enabled the Parliamentary Labour Party to remain sufficiently united to defeat May’s deal. Labour led a series of victories over May’s Tory Brexit which led to her sacking.

Labour has recently made a big tactical blunder that will help Johnson secure a Tory Brexit. The party abandoned the centre ground and swung to the left to become a ‘Remain and Reform’ party to fight it out with the Liberal Democrats. It is a crack pot idea pushed onto Corbyn by Blair, Campbell, Wes Streeting and fronted by arch witch finder, Tom Watson. Corbyn could have fended them off until Thornberry, McDonnell, Abbott and other left MPs like Clive Lewis backed a remain referendum.

This has created a Labour shambles not least because ‘remaining’ is in contradiction to calling a general election for a Labour government to go back to Brussels for another deal. But more than this it has released around 29 Labour MP’s who had been shackled by the promise to respect the referendum result. It had enabled Tory Brexit to be blocked by Labour MPs from both leave and remain.

Now the new PM is a man with a plan. He is going to get Tory Brexit through the Commons and then fight a general election. How can he pull it off? He is threatening no-deal as a negotiating tactic. In practice he will seek to come back with a disguised version of the May Deal. The Tories will see through this disguise but pretend not to notice.

Fear stalks the Tory party. Vote for the Johnson Deal or hand the keys to number 10 to the extreme ‘Marxist’ Jeremy Corbyn. At the same time 29 Labour MPs released from their obligations by Labour’s switch to an ultra- remain party will back the Johnson deal and get it over the line.

Peter Mandelson and his mouthpiece, Tom Watson, will have delivered a win-double – helping the Tories to secure a majority in the Commons and hence to win a victory over Corbyn in the general election.

Of course there is a democratic case for working people to vote in a ratification referendum (i.e. Yes/No without a Remain option). The idea there is a parliamentary majority for a second referendum with a remain question is for the birds. The only practical purpose for adding a remain question is to undermine Corbyn and further divide the working class.

We can only guess how Johnson will get his revised May-deal. The most straightforward is to draw the economic border with the EU down the Irish Sea and do the checks in Liverpool etc. There is then no need for an Irish backstop. Of course Johnson will have to throw the DUP under the bus. Yet the Tory rank and file have already said they would happily lose Ireland if only they could get Brexit and defeat Corbyn.

This is not to say that Johnson is brave enough to sacrifice Irish Unionism so essential for Tory politics. Perhaps they will come up with something more complex to save the Tories from a terminal crisis. The main point is that Watson’s ultra-remain victory was a setback for Labour and may be the point when Corbyn was finally scuppered by a fatal combination of his enemies and his allies.

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Corbyn switches

The 2016 referendum marked a significant change in the UK’s constitutional practice. It shifted the democratic centre of British politics. England and Wales voted to leave the EU and Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain. Nobody voted to leave the single market or the customs union. It required Her Majesty’s Government to negotiate a deal with the EU and, in recognition of popular sovereignty, return to the people to ratify in a Yes/No referendum.

The Tories rejected most of this. Leaving the single market and customs union is the crucial aspect of their version of Brexit for their plan for a free trade with Trump and US health corporations and to ramp up immigration control and a build up hostile racist environment. The Tories, as English unionists, are determined to impose their policy on the majorities in Northern Ireland and Scotland who voted to remain in the EU.

Corbyn seized the centre ground. He took a ‘remain-democrat’ stance when he voted to trigger Article 50, in the 2017 general election manifesto and in the 2018 Labour conference resolution. Labour already supported a ratification referendum but not a Remain question. However Labour fudged the democratic issue in calling for ‘a’ customs union, instead of remaining in the actual one, and aligning with the single market instead of remaining in it. Most significantly Labour failed to demand the democratic right of Northern Ireland and Scotland to remain in the EU.

Nevertheless, Labour’s imperfect version of a remain-democrat position enabled Corbyn to block Tory Brexit and wage a successful parliamentary struggle against it. May was beaten three times in the Commons and eventually forced to resign. Thanks to Labour’s fight, the UK is still in the EU at least until 31 October. Those who oppose leaving should be singing Corbyn’s praises. The very opposite is true. He has been isolated as former allies like John McDonnell, Diane Abbot, Paul Mason and others have backed Watson.

There has been a massive campaign waged by Tom Watson and the Labour right to destabilise and eventually overthrow Corbyn. Watson’s transitional programme demands Labour switch to a second referendum for remain and reform, expel the socialist left through the anti-Semitic witch-hunt, and demand the sack for Corbyn’s closest advisors. It has been a continuous barrage of lies, slanders and misrepresentations which has brought Labour into disrepute.

The real winners in Watson’s battle against Corbyn are the Tories. By adopting a liberal ‘remain and reform’ unity in the Labour PLP may break-down. Mays’s deal, which was defeated in parliament, could conceivably be resurrected and repackaged. As section of Labour MPs released from any need to follow Labour discipline may vote with the Tories. The unintended consequence of Labour shifting to remain could be victory for Tory Brexit.

Corbyn has been resisting and standing by the 2018 conference policy, backed up by Len McCluskey. But on Monday five union leaders, including Unite, backed a switch. Corbyn signalled the change after the shadow cabinet meeting. He wrote to Labour members saying “As democrats, Labour accepted the result of the 2016 referendum. In our 2017 manifesto, Labour also committed to oppose a No Deal Brexit and the Tories’ Brexit plans – which threatened jobs, living standards, and the open multicultural society that we as internationalists value so much.” He continues “Labour set out a compromise plan to try to bring the country together based around a customs union, a strong single market relationship and protection of environmental regulations and rights at work”.

He reassures members “We continue to believe this is a sensible alternative that could bring the country together” and says “Whoever becomes the new Prime Minister should have the confidence to put their deal, or No Deal, back to the people in a public vote”. So far democrats can agree.

However Corbyn has added the call for a remain question on any ballot paper. This introduces a new compromise into Labour’s existing compromise. Labour still wants a general election for a Labour government to go the Brussels and negotiate an alternative deal. But then Labour comes back and supports ‘remain’ in a referendum against its own deal! This is a real problem without an answer as yet.

9 July 2019

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