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.


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LU 2018 Conference 20 June 2018

Left Unity and the crisis of democracy

On 16 June Left Unity held its annual conference. The party has been steadily shrinking since 2016 but it still has over five hundred members. Over twenty five activists attended which tells its own story. It was a significant conference after last year’s nervous breakdown. The demand LU liquidates into the Labour Party was no longer evident in resolutions or speeches.

The main question before conference was the ‘crisis of democracy’ which grew from the politics of austerity. The EU referendum has taken this to a whole new level. It has divided England between the Anglo-British and Anglo-Europeans. An emergency resolution was tabled about the recent Anglo-British mass mobilisation in London by the supporters of Tommy Robinson, the BNP and UKIP etc.

The battle over Brexit is bringing us to the brink of a constitutional crisis in relations between the Crown, parliament and the peoples of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The shocking disaster at Grenfell Tower showed the ‘crisis of democracy’ at local as well as at national and European levels.

This fed into the main strand of the conference. What kind of party are we going to be? Was LU to carry on with its own brand of Trotskyism or recognise the centrality of the working class in the struggle for democracy and socialism? Should the Crown, parliament or people ratify the Tory Brexit deal? Should Unionism be able to impose Brexit on Northern Ireland and Scotland?

Trotskyist front

Left Unity was set up in 2013 as a Trotskyist front. All the leading activists were either in small Trotskyist organisations like Socialist Resistance, CPGB or Workers Power or were refugees from the various organisations which litter the left landscape, such as the WRP, SWP and the Militant Tendency.

The rationale was that unlike the major Trotskyist parties – the SWP and the Socialist Party – the fragments were unable to engage in mass politics. They realised they could do better by hanging together than separately. So Left Unity made sense. When it came to a programme for this new front then it was left reformism or social monarchism that could bind them together.

In 1945 the Labour government carried through its programme of social monarchy – extensive ‘cradle to grave’ social reforms on the basis of loyalty to the constitutional monarchy as embodied in George VI. The ‘spirit of 45’ ran like a red line through LU inspired by Ken Loach’s call for unity. Left Unity was designed by Trotskyists to fill the gap which the Labour left was too weak and feeble to occupy.

In 2015 Jeremy Corbyn burst onto the scene and left reformism (i.e. social monarchism) took back the ‘sprit of 45’ and raised it to new heights previously unimaginable. LU’s small groups began decanting to the Labour Party. Why build a front when you could join a mass Labour Party and try to convert it into a much bigger Trotskyist front?

Left Unity began to shrink, disorientated by the unexpected turn of events. The first version of Left Unity as embodying the ‘spirit of 45’ was as dead as a dodo. None of the current leadership refers to it and some even pretend it never happened. So the question before this conference was the politics and character of Left Unity Mark 2 version.

Left Unity Mark 2 version

The main ideological dispute between socialists in Left Unity was between republicanism and Trotskyism. It was in effect a dispute as to whether the minimum programme of LU should be social republican or social monarchist. British Trotskyism had long become a voice for Labour’s social monarchism with its demands for social reforms – on health, housing, transport and public ownership.

The matter came to a head over the new LU constitution. A resolution from South London sought to amend the statement of party aims. It proposed to insert after “environmentalist” the French word “republican”.

If passed the aims of LU would now read “Left Unity is a party of the radical left, linked to the European Left Party, working in solidarity with like-minded anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist parties internationally. We are socialist, feminist, environmentalist, republican and opposed to all forms of discrimination”.

Some comrades from South London felt this was so innocuous that it was bound to go through. But they hadn’t reckoned with the fact that republicanism is like a red rag to the Trotskyist bull. Ex-SWP ex-Militant, and ex WRP lined up to oppose republicanism. It wasn’t the crown they worried about but the threat this posed to their leadership.

The various Trotskyists declared they were totally and utterly republican. It was so obvious that there was no need to mention it. Every socialist felt the same and never mentioned it either. So too the Labour Party which never had a republican programme. Indeed avoiding republicanism was the litmus test of (pseudo)‘revolutionary’ and left reformist politics.

By the end of conference the Trotskyists secured their control of Left Unity with a new more centralist constitution. A great opportunity to rethink and discuss the strategy and programme was lost. This conference confirmed the decline of Left Unity. The ‘crisis of democracy’, which is growing in England, the UK and Europe, is showing itself in LU which is shrinking but more importantly has no answers.

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Jack Conrad’s timely article in Weekly Worker came out against a Second (EU) Referendum. Last Saturday the issue was raised at the Radical Independence Conference in Edinburgh in favour of Scottish Ratification Referendum in 2018, or at least before March 2019.

The very words “ScotRatRef18” are anathema for Jack. He has no sympathy for “Scotland” because it is nationalist and not British. He fails to recognise the danger of the EU ratification process which will impose an anti-working class Tory Brexit. He claims that for communists a ‘referendum’ is beyond the pale, perhaps because he fears working class people voting on political matters will only end badly.

Scotland voted by 62% to remain in the EU. This, of course, has no political meaning for the British. Pretend it never happened and roll your British tanks over it as if it is not there. The Scottish people have no right to self determination and ‘British Exit’ reminds the forgetful. Don’t forget Northern Ireland either.

There is no Article 50 in the British Unionist constitution, as Anti-Unionists in England keep reminding everybody. As Queen Anne said in 1707, this Act of Union is forever. There is no legal way out of it. It is true Cameron gambled that he could defeat the rise of Scottish democracy by allowing the 2014 referendum. He won, only just, and kept his job. But not before he had made the present Queen more than a little anxious for her throne.

After the defeat of 2014 the idea of a second Independence Referendum (Indie Ref 2) is for the birds. I have taken to calling it IndieRef34, sadly as I am unlikely to be around in 2034 to join in. There is no way after Brexit that the British Crown will allow Scotland to have another Indie Ref for at least twenty years.

Yet Scottish self determination remains a live issue because of Brexit. Now the issue is whether Scotland can be forced out of the EU against its democratic vote to remain. Even an intelligent Unionist can realise that if Brexit ends badly there will be a permanent in-built grievance that the rights of the Scottish people were trampled underfoot by English votes combined with the political force of the British Crown.

Of course there is a ratification process for the EU treaty. There are only three candidates – the British Crown (Ministers etc) or the ‘Crown in Parliament’ (Westminster) or the people through a referendum. If Jack rules out the latter then in the real world he is choosing by default the Crown or Westminster. This is why ScotRatRef18 is not simply a Scottish issue but a UK wide RatRef issue.

I should add for clarity that I do not support the slogan of a ‘Second Referendum’ since it implies repeating the first one. It is a dangerous obfuscation, which will only benefit UKIP and the far right by alienating that section of the English and Welsh working class who were misled into voting to leave. I agree with Jack there should be no truck whatsoever with the nasty, vile and disgusting second EU referendum.

The last point refers to Jack’s principled objection to referenda, citing the ideas of Karl Kautshy. His method is to counterpoise the ideal of socialist democracy to the dirty business of bourgeoisie democracy. Once the proletariat is in power there will be no need for general elections or referenda because life will be permanent voting every day. Set against the real capitalist world we live in, socialism has no need for any kind of bourgeois voting, from dodgy elections to dickey referenda. The ‘case’ for boycotting bourgeois democracy is not confined to referenda.

Workers demand wage increases in the fight against poverty pay. Without real democracy, workers demand the right to vote on this, that, and the next thing. Nowadays when the Council decides to bulldoze your estate and build mansions for absent Russian oligarchs, it has become fashionable to demand mini-referenda on the council plans. Referenda are more prevalent than most recognise.

Why should working class people, the ignorant mob and their friends the great unwashed masses, be allowed to interfere in the royal prerogatives of Crown and Parliament? Why should they be allowed to vote for or against the Tories dirty little Brexit deal? If Cameron had taken Kautsky more seriously we wouldn’t be in this Brexit mess in the first place and he would still be Prime Minister!

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Discussion Paper on Europe

The struggle for democracy against British Exit and for a fully democratic Europe

The Tory Brexit deal negotiated by May will be used to damage and divide the working class. Left Unity should oppose it by mobilising the working class to vote against it in a ratification referendum to take place in early 2019. If the Tories are defeated then there would be a strong case for a general election.

Of course the case for a ratification referendum has not been won. The Tories oppose it and Corbyn is unsure. We should mobilise our allies (for example Another Europe) and the trade unions to back a call for a referendum. The case is basically a democratic one. The people, not parliament or the Crown, must have the opportunity to vote for or against Tory Brexit.

We should not re-run the case for remain or leave. Most remain supporters say that whilst they think leave will damage British capitalism (profits, employment, and workers rights etc) they accept the ‘democratic mandate’. Left Unity should not simply fall in behind that and say we accept British Exit as a valid democratic interpretation of the result.

Left Unity should question the democratic legitimacy and meaning of the EU referendum rather than simply follow Corbyn’s view. This is not because we want to re-run the first one again as happened in Ireland. The undemocratic features of the first referendum and the biased conclusions drawn by the Unionist parties, demands the working class have the opportunity to vote on the deal once we know those details made public (rather than the hidden clauses or secret deals). We should strongly oppose those who deny the right of the working class to vote on this vital issue.

Undemocratic features of the 2016 EU referendum

1. At least 3 million were excluded from the vote – some EU residents, for example French but not Irish, and all 16 to 17 years olds.

2. A recognition that 13 million abstained or 29 million did not vote for Exit compared to the 17 million that did. As democrats we do not claim that 13 million abstentions can overturn the majority. However every public commentator ignores the abstentions as if they did not exist. We should demand that the leave majority does not behave like a dictatorship and take no account at all that the majority did not vote to leave.

3. Although people had mixed motives for voting – people voted for the official question on the ballot paper to leave the EU. People did not vote to leave the single market. It was not on the ballot paper.

4. As democrats we recognise the sovereignty of the nations in the UK and their right to self determination. We recognise that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain in the EU and this should be recognised as a negotiating aim. No Tory or Unionist recognises the rights of the Ireland and Scotland to self determination.

Left Unity should be raising these points in any forum, such as Another Europe, Momentum, Rise in Scotland, in the trade unions, NHS campaigns etc. We are raising these points to encourage EU citizens, young people, and the people of Northern Ireland and Scotland to fight harder against British Exit because their democratic rights have been denied by the Tories.

Ratification Referendum

Many in the liberal establishment with elitist views think it was a mistake to allow people (or plebs) to vote on EU membership. They think it should be decided by Ministers or by a vote in parliament. This is not the view of consistent democrats. All elections and referenda in capitalist societies are biased because money and control of media is a powerful factor. Recognising and exposing the many forms of bias does not mean we oppose elections and referenda. The political involvement of the working class is better than their exclusion.

The best answer to biased elections and referenda is to expose the corrupt practices and have more of them. Democracy is a learning curve which should enable people to vote again and confirm or change their minds. (Why should we have to wait to 2022 to vote out the Tories?).

We should therefore call for a Ratification Referendum to vote for or against the Tory Brexit Deal. It cannot be left to Ministers of the Crown to mark their own homework. Neither should we leave it to Westminster which is controlled by capitalist interests and acts as a rubber stamp.

The Scottish Parliament is in a special position to call for a Ratification Referendum because the SNP with the Greens has a parliamentary majority. Scotland voted to remain and it should be given the opportunity to see if they back Tory Brexit or continue to reject it and thus enforce their claim of right to self determination. If Scotland votes to reject Tory Brexit then the case for a second Indie referendum becomes stronger and more urgent. It would strengthen the Irish case too.

The Future of the EU

Brexit is not simply a failure of democracy in the UK but a failure of democracy in Europe. It is this European non-democracy that has failed the people of Greece. The lack of effective democracy requires a radical answer. For some it is to ‘restore’ national democracy (hence Brexit) and for others it is to replace the EU constitution with a full democracy – a European federal republic (or a republican united states of Europe).

This can only come ‘from below’ by a democratic mobilisation across Europe or a pan-European democratic revolution. The struggle for a Pan-European Republic does not contradict the struggle for democratic change in any one country. Hence the struggle for democracy in Ireland, Scotland and Catalonia goes with or is part of the European democratic revolution.

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Europe’s republican revolution

The popular democratic movement in Catalonia which culminated in the declaration of the Catalan republic is not simply a Catalan or even a Spanish matter. It is part of battle for democracy across Europe and the wider world. It is a link made by author Liz Castro. She says “with the establishment of the Catalan Republic, we hope that the triumph of grassroots ……….democratic process can be precursor to a much more democratic Europe”.

The Catalan rebellion has the characteristics of a democratic revolution – the declaration of the republic, a provisional government, a process for a new constitution and rank and file ‘Committees for the Defence of the Referendum and the Republic’. But the revolution is unarmed and faces the might of the fully armed Spanish state. Already the Republic has been overthrown by a counterrevolutionary coup by the Spanish state.

The class struggle between the Spanish ruling bourgeoisie and Catalan petty bourgeois nationalism – the Kingdom versus the Republic – is vital for the development of the revolutionary democratic working class. The vanguard of the working class is neither indifferent to the Catalan rebel republic nor sitting on the fence. On the contrary the revolutionary working class takes sides with the republic against the (United) Kingdom of Spain.

Paul Demarty seems to criticise the SWP’s Alex Callinicos “for claiming that Spain retains its Francoist state core, that Rajoy’s Popular Party is the inheritor of the Franco regime”. What is wrong with that? The Spanish monarchy was put on the throne to claim the mantle of ‘democracy’ for entry into the European Union whilst retaining Franco’s police state apparatus. It only took the attempt to hold a peoples’ referendum for the Spanish state to reveal its true colours.

That the rebellion in Catalonia is not a ‘socialist revolution’ is a statement of the bleeding obvious. It is a democratic republican revolution more akin to the Dublin 1916 Easter uprising in Dublin. Lenin’s famous observation on proclamation of the Irish republic says “To imagine that social revolution is conceivable without revolts by small nations in the colonies and in Europe, without revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie with all its prejudices, without a movement of the politically non-conscious proletarian and semi-proletarian masses against oppression by the landowners, the church, and the monarchy, against national oppression, etc. – to imagine all this is to repudiate social revolution”. (Lenin- the discussion on self determination summed up July 1916)

Some leftist intellectuals wash their hands of such national rebellions, uprisings and even “revolutionary outbursts by a section of the petty bourgeoisie” on the grounds this is not “the socialist revolution”. This will not overthrow capitalism in one country!

Lenin had his own answer. “Whoever expects a “pure” social revolution will never live to see it. Such a person pays lip-service to revolution without understanding what revolution is”. (Lenin- the discussion on self determination summed up July 1916). He takes aim at the abstract revolutionism of the ultra lefts. He ridicules their ideas.

“So one army lines up in one place and says, “We are for socialism”, and another, somewhere else and says, “We are for imperialism”, and that will be a social revolution! Only those who hold such a ridiculously pedantic view could vilify the Irish rebellion by calling it a “putsch”.

Lenin saw the Irish uprising as a European event and this is how we should see the events in Catalonia. They are obviously connected to the democratic movement in Scotland and the unfinished business in Ireland. The people of Catalonia were inspired by the Scottish democratic movement expressed in the 2014 referendum. They hoped they could go one better.

The SNP government wanted to keep the British monarchy and Bank of England. The Catalan movement embraced the republic as their Unionist opponents clung to the Spanish monarchy. Cameron thought he would win easily in Scotland and got a nasty shock before being rescued by Gordon Brown. The Spanish ‘Cameron’ knew the republic would win and was determined to stop it or disrupt it by all means necessary including violence.

Paul Demarty makes a very important point (Weekly Worker 1177). He says “The long-distance left urges support for the “Catalan Republic”; but that republic exists largely in theory, and the local state apparatus is largely obeying the new direct rulers. To make the republic a reality, what is demanded is nothing less than the organisation of a militia or other armed force.”

On Paul Demarty’s demand to arm the Republic we can compare the Irish Republic in 1916 and the Kurdish referendum earlier this year. The Irish republic existed “largely in theory” but had arms. It lacked popular support. The Catalan Republic has mass support amongst Catalan workers, not least Barcelona fire-fighters, but no militia and no weapons except those in the hands of the Catalan police. The Iraqi Kurds won their referendum and are backed up by the armed Pesh Merga.

The Kingdom of Spain (or the ‘United’ Kingdom of Spain) is opposed to the Catalan Republic, has declared it illegal and is determined to crush with as much or little state violence as necessary. Without arms to defend the democratic revolution, it is, as Paul says, a very unequal contest unless the working class in the rest of Spain and Europe come to their aid. It is therefore time for every socialist and communist across Europe to come off the ‘self determination’ fence and support the Catalan republic against the United Snakes of Spain.

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