Finbar Geaney, long time socialist in Ireland, writes on the ongoing debate in Britain over how to exit the European Union. Some on the socialist left both in Britain and in the US supported “Brexit”, but they didn’t understand the class forces involved.
Brexit is not an event, it is a process; and the process is being driven by right-wing interests within the UK and other countries. It is essential that socialist forces and mass workers organisations resist this right-ward political shift in its entirety. Delay and continuing confusion have characterised much of the left response to this dangerous development in global politics. A raft of meaningless terms has been thrown about by left-wing spokespeople that only serve to obfuscate. There is no ‘soft Brexit’, ‘hard Brexit’, ‘Tory Brexit’, ‘Labour Brexit’, or ‘Lexit’ [Left Exit]. Still less is there a ‘workers Brexit’ or (…and the winner is…) a ‘socialist Brexit’. Brexit is the material precipitation of the forces of the right in Britain. Nobody can any longer doubt that the only force that gained from the Referendum result is the Right.
Brexit a right wing move
Brexit began as a right-wing, nationalist split in the British Tory Party and went on to generate UKIP [United Kingdom Independence Party – a chauvinist right wing party] as a serious political force. It then dragged in from obscurity a range of right-wing MPs such as Ian Duncan Smith, David Davies, Michael Gove, Teresa May and Michael Fox and in addition breathed new life into right-wing lunatics like Rees Mogg and Boris Johnston. Then against their wildest dreams they won a vote fifteen months ago. The negative Referendum result was assisted unfortunately by a residual confusion among some Labour Party MPs and workers’ leaders about the nature of the European Union. I have written about this in an earlier post. Jeremy Corbyn and others of the Campaign Group in the past mistakenly juxtaposed the European Union and socialist democracy as polar opposites. Corbyn himself supported the Bill that called for a Referendum.
British Labour Party
The most recent stated position of the British Labour Party is ridiculous. They say that Britain should remain within the Single Market as well as the Customs Union and should also accept the decisions of the European Court of Justice for what they call a ‘transitional period’. If that is their position now then why bother leaving the European at all! And when they refer to ‘transitional’ arrangements, to what are they ‘transitioning’! Better to be honest and to accept that they have been taking an incorrect approach and that the UK should remain within the EU.
The UK has not left the European Union. It is not inevitable that it will. A reversal of the decision of June 26th 2016 would represent a major defeat for the forces of the right, and not just in Britain. Trump welcomed Farage to the White House shortly after his inauguration, the latest Breitbart departure from his Administration lauded Brexit. Marine LePen, Wilders and others are trying to build their right-wing forces through association with the victory of the right in Britain as manifested in Brexit.
Labour leaders need to face up to the reality of what is happening all around them. They need to muster the courage to say clearly that the decision of the Referendum last year was wrong, opens the way for the ascendancy of the right and needs to be changed. Some guts are required in this situation.
Any political decision can be changed. Any democratic decision can be reversed by another democratic decision. There is no challenge to the principles of democracy in that.
International Class Struggle Needed
Now is the time to link up the socialist forces and mass workers’ organisations across Europe in a united political campaign against the right. A common programme of anti-capitalist policies and socialist demands can be built around a new campaign on the EU. There is clearly disillusionment across Europe at the dominance of conservative forces in all the institutions of the EU. This is a consequence of the election of conservative governments in several European countries. The stranglehold that the conservatives have over the institutions of the EU can be broken. European Treaties can be changed.
A new opportunity now presents itself. The labour movement in Britain can become the centre of a continent-wide movement to reverse the tide of right-wing dominance in economics and politics. Reversing the decision of June 2016 could become the focus.
The Tories say that they can negotiate a good deal for Britain and its citizens. Then let them tell the British people now what it is that they are negotiating for. This would provide an opportunity for a vote. If they insist on negotiating the whole package first then let there be a nationwide vote at the end of the negotiation and let the result of that vote be the second vote on the proposal to leave the EU. In the context of a new Referendum, a campaign for a socialist Europe would be entirely different from the right-wing jamboree of 2016. If Brexit were to be rejected, and especially it were rejected in favour of building support for international socialism, what a serious defeat that would be for the right across the world!