Civil War or Civil Peace

Recently I wrote to Labour MP Helen Hayes, urging her to support a ratification referendum on May’s Withdrawal deal (or even a May-Labour version). This is a democratic right which enables both leave and remain supporters to reject (or support) the Tory deal.

I opposed including a remain question saying it “would be dangerously divisive to try at this time to reverse the 2016 vote and would be a gift to the Tories and the extreme right in many working class communities suffering from Tory austerity”.

My only qualification is that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain and should not be forced to leave the EU against their will. If they are, they should fight for a referendum on leaving the UK.

Helen Hayes replied that “I continue to hold the view that in any future referendum remain must be an option on the ballot paper. I have consistently held this view”. Many Labour MPs, Tiggers, Greens and Liberal Democrats support this.

The Brexit crisis has polarised people. Many working class Leavers now support a Full Total Brexit. A referendum which offers working class Leave supporters a choice to vote for May’s deal OR Remain will be seen as betrayal and cause outrage. Surely they will boycott it and take to the streets?

In England and Wales a “May Deal or Remain” referendum plays into the hands of the Tory right and the neo-fascists. They will think Christmas has come early, whilst socialists will remember that liberals have always been the midwives of authoritarianism and fascism.

We are at a fork in the road on the referendum question. One sign says “Civil Peace” and the other says “Civil War”. The democratic demand for ratification is the road towards peace. A Remain ballot risks civil war.

Rex Dunn’s article in Weekly Worker (No 1246 11 April 2019) highlights the war path. He says “Hatred and intolerance is on the rise. This is the ‘ugly face of Brexit’ as the pro-Brexit demonstration on March 29 clearly showed”. He continues “if there is a general election – or another referendum – there could well be fighting in the streets. If that happens, of course, this would not be the first time that there would be civil violence in Britain”.

Rex says “today if fighting does break out in the coming period, it will be between pro-‘remain’ and pro-Brexit supporters: a civil war without class struggle, because it crosses class lines”. Boycotting referenda is not like boycotting civil war.

All civil wars in capitalist society involve struggle between classes which ‘cross class lines’. In his discussion of the national question, Lenin rejected any notions of pure class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat in which one side lines up “for capitalism” and the other “for socialism”. Revolution and civil war is a messy business.

Labour MP Helen Hayes has naively chosen the path of civil war although there is as yet no majority in parliament to issue the call to arms. Liberals don’t care. They have a stick to beat ‘peacenik’ Corbyn, who seems reluctant to back a second-remain ballot. He should rule it out and not beat about the bush.

The Corbyn ‘peace plan’ without the democratic right to ratify echoes Stalinist bureaucratic politics that fears and avoids the democratic verdict of the working class. It would be disastrous if Labour makes a Brexit peace deal with the Tories. It is even more dangerous if working people are denied the right to ratify or reject it.

The working class needs its own independent democratic policy rather than simply following the reactionaries and liberals. This includes following the path of civil peace not civil war and hence fighting for a ratification referendum and rejecting a dangerous attempt to MP’s like Helen Hayes to include a remain question.

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