Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Lexit Delusion

Dave and co were hoping a spot of economic determinism would see them through the EU referendum. Unfortunately for them, and all our people who stand to lose should Britain exit, this is proving not to be the case. Drawing deep from a poisoned well sunk by tabloid after politician after demagogue, Leave have doused the referendum campaign in xenophobic and anti-immigration toxicants. As my comrade Lawrence Shaw puts it:
EU referendum debate round-up of the last six months in case you missed it:

Immigration. Immigration. Immigration. Foreigners. Muslims. Immigration. Taking all "our" jobs. Immigration. Immigration. Two whole aisles of Polish food in Tesco's. Immigration. Country is too small. Immigration. Immigration. Foreigners. Immigration. Changing our culture. Immigration. Immigration. Immigrants. Asylum Seekers. They can do anything they want. Immigration. Immigration. Terrorists. Immigration.

And don't forget political correctness. I mean you're not even allowed to talk about immigration these days.
How has this come to pass? Unfortunately, it goes back to this blog's old warhorse: labour movement weakness. The reason why blue-on-blue dominates the airwaves and are hegemonic in their respective camps isn't because Jeremy Corbyn is rubbish at media, it's because - pound for pound - the social forces underpinning big business and finance are so much stronger, cohesive, and assertive. It's a political situation arrived at after the breaking of the labour movement in the 1980s, the promotion of economic and domestic policy designed to continually disperse the sorts of solidarities that underpin socialist politics, and the letting loose of free market fundamentalism across ever greater areas of social life have eroded relationships and replaced them with impersonal transactions. The election of Jeremy to the Labour leadership has shifted the terms of debate, arguably contributing to the government's litany of U-turns and defeats, but underneath the question remains whether a counter-movement to the further weakening of our constituency is occurring. Doubling the size of the party and getting another trade union aboard is but a baby step in the direction socialist politics must travel.

Because our movement is marginal, there was no chance of leading Remain or Leave on our terms. You just have to look at the grotesqueries of your John Manns and Kate Hoeys peddling unvarnished Farageisms, and the idiocy of Alistair Darling lining up with Osborne - again - promising to kneecap pensions and public services. Our people, at least nominally, doing the do on their terms. The question flowing from this is what would be best for our people and the rebuilding of our movement. Or, using the logic of lesser-evilism, what would be least worst.

Here, I think so-called "Lexit" comrades have been cavalier with the dangers pregnant in the situation. Okay, assuming Remain wins, little would change domestically. The Tory Party would carry on, albeit damaged and its government crippled for the foreseeable, and stagger along its path of collapsing membership. UKIP too, also on a downward spiral, would also carry on, albeit under reduced circumstances. The stock market and the pound rallies, and it's back to politics as normal in all its mendacity and beggar-thy-neighbouring. What an inspiring vision to rally around! Though it is worth noting one thing. A Remain vote in the minds of millions, whether they're for or against, is a climax of a culture war. The EU is not an internationalist utopia or anything approaching the sort, but nevertheless and no matter how mistaken they are it is perceived as a repository of hope, a modernity beyond Europe's tragic history of belligerent states, and is a symbol of cooperation across nationalities. It is also these same reasons that motivates opposition to the EU among kippers and the Tory hard right. To this technocratic futurity we find opposed Germanophobia, empire nostalgia, libertarian fantasy, insularity and, of course, the fear of Johnny Foreigner. We've recently peered down one wormhole, so lets go through another: Leave are pushing Britain toward a mini-America with gun controls.

Just think about it for a moment. If Leave wins, who wins? The most backward forces in British society do. The Europhobic Tory right, UKIP, and every two-bit racist outfit. The most socially useless, noncompetitive, and regressive elements of British capital. A strengthening of nationalism - and I'm not talking the fluffy civic kind pushed by the SNP - is likely. Increased hostility to migrant workers. More scapegoating. More blaming the EU for our failings because they presume to "punish" the UK for leaving. These are the self-same forces who cry foul about Osborne's kneecapping budget today, but will be the ones implementing it with relish tomorrow as they squeeze the cost of exiting out of the remaining social wage.

Some comrades of a more economistic bent think exit would destroy the Tories once and for all. We watched Amber Rudd smacking down Boris Johnson. We've seen Michael Gove rubbish his chancellor's claims about the economic dangers. The campaign has played out as an internal party feud with intervals staffed by the other mainstream parties. Yes, an exit would mean no more Dave and the thwarting of Osborne's ambitions, but would that necessarily mean the end of the Tories? Just because the Conservatives are the stupid party doesn't mean they're stupid. Remain Tory MPs are as likely to leave their party as Progress-types are Labour for as long as First-Past-the-Post rules the day. Yes, they might be pains in the arse for an incoming government headed by Johnson, Gove, IDS, and Farage, but the party is likely to limp on in much the same manner as it would after a Remain victory.

Oh, did I just mention Nigel Farage in the same breath? Yep. Because one lesser-spotted dynamic in play is what happens to UKIP in an exit scenario. With a Tory Party dominated by Leave and, in all likelihood, led by Johnson after a perfunctory leadership contest, there is a good proportion of UKIP members for whom the purple party is no longer required. How many would come back and how many voters would follow ex-Tories returning to the fold? I don't know, but far from weakening the Tories they could re-emerge from the chaos of the referendum campaign as a populist, self-consciously patriotic party. Stranger things have happened, and this is more likely than a Tory split fantasy.

And then there is a further, darker scenario. Everyone who pays attention to politics and the European Union know that whatever deal post-exit Britain is able to get, access to the single market will be contingent on accepting the free movement of labour. There is not one single member state that would countenance Britain having the rights of access without the responsibilities attending it. The promises Johnson et al make about immigration now are not worth the air drawn to utter them. Mass migration will continue, and then what? With the promises abandoned and politics seemingly unable to do anything about it, there opens a space for the kinds of forces who are presently marginal but have mass followings on the Continent. Leave the EU to become more like the EU?

The old politics are dying. The constituencies of the previous order are dissolving, but the same ugly politics are as pernicious as ever. Ultimately, this referendum is a choice between what we have now with its problems and opportunities, or a "crisis" trending toward the further empowerment of the hard right, of xenophobia, of nationalism and hate politics. There is no "left exit", only a step into the abyss.


Ken said...

The other day John Harris of the Guardian found on the #Labourdoorstep in Stoke that nine out of ten Labour voters canvassed were for Leave.

The video is here, and his write-up is here.

No doubt you have a better idea of what it's like on the ground, but his report reminded me very much of his earlier forays into Scotland, before the referendum and before the general election. It's an analogy Harris draws himself. It suggests that even or perhaps especially if Remain wins, the voters Labour has lost on the referendum are lost for the foreseeable to the nationalists.

Boffy said...

Four years ago, I pretty much predicted this. I examined the trajectory of the Tories, and the potential trajectory of Britain. I used Marx's "The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte" as a template.

The history of all such situations, is that when concessions are made to conservative and reactionary ideas, it simply sets in play a dynamic that pushes further and further in that direction, and strengthens the forces of reaction. In France it led to to the coming to power of Louis Bonaparte via a coup.

When the German Communist Party and Socialist Party tried to adapt to the support being won by the Nazis, by adopting a nationalist stance themselves, it simply legitimised the nationalism of the Nazis, and led to a further drive in that direction.

I pointed out that Bojo was standing in the wings waiting to fulfil that role, and essentially he will take power via an internal Tory Party coup. There are already talks about Farage having a position in a potential Bojo government. If you look at the members of UKIP across the country, and their electoral base, along with those mobilised behind the Tory Right for Brexit, show them to be exactly the same social forces that stood behind Bonaparte, and other Bonapartists elsewhere.

The difference is as Trotsky describes, there are different types of Bonapartism. That which arises when a society is in process of moving up from one mode of production to another, but where the revolutionary class is still to weak to wield power in its own name, sees a Bonapartism that pushes through the change. Examples would be Cromwell, Bonaparte, Bismark, Bolivar, Stalin. But, where a society is in a state of decline, and the ruling class cannot hold on to power in its own name, a different kind of Bonapartism seizes the opportunity to take power.

That is the Bonapartism of a Mussolini, a Hitler, and Franco and so on. It may as in these cases take the form of actual fascism, but either way it takes the form of severe reaction, and authoritarianism.

Nothing in life is predetermined or certain, but the kinds of concessions that have already been made to xenophobia and nationalism have already put us in a bad place to make a stand.

J. Kim said...

why are we not allowed to talk about immigration these days.