Saturday, 4 June 2016

A Socialist Case for Remain

Let's be clear. Voting remain is voting for the status quo. There is no welcoming political dawn around the corner, it is quite simply supporting what we have now with all its problems and possibilities. The judgement then is on the basis of whether the present is worth defending (or clinging on to in case of something worse), or if exiting is a better option in the long run. That's how the Remain and Leave camps have put it with greater or lesser degrees of hysteria. For socialists, however, this is not enough. There is a relation between political actions and political interests, so for us the question of supporting and campaigning for remain, or not, has to be seen through the prism of class struggle. Would one position strengthen or worsen the power of labour and its capacity to organise? The answer to that is a yes, and it's pretty clear to me that our interests are best served by UK voters choosing to remain.

Having started this, I've realised that writing a comprehensive socialist case for remaining is a small pamphlet-sized endeavour. At the very least it needs to discuss political opportunities, the free movement of labour and Fortress Europe, the nature of the forces hegemonic in the leave and remain campaigns and the consequences flowing from the victory/defeat of each, the EU as an institution, legislation around workplace protections, sovereignty, and so on. I'll therefore be writing on those topics in future posts

We should begin with Remain's strongest suit, the economy. As per Jeremy Corbyn's intervention in the referendum, we are seeing a great deal of scaremongering from the government. It's what they know after all, so we should expect little else. Yet with all good scares, if such a phrase exists, there is a foundation of truth upon which the exaggeration is erected. And the truth is no one knows what impact leaving the EU would have on the British economy. Talk of cataclysm is hyperbole, but inward investment is likely to fall as the relationship with the single market is clouded with uncertainty, and there is a chance of a slow withdrawal of long established non-European firms. As my brother works for one such business, I should declare a personal interest in not seeing his job gambled with. So yes, there will be a hit, the extent and durée of which no one can say for sure. And yet what is perplexing from a class struggle perspective is how this is overlooked, rubbished, or not at all considered important for the self-defined "Lexit" camp. Attempting to say something on this, Judy Beishon writes that austerity has already impacted on living standards and the cost of leaving, which the government would naturally try and pass on in the same way we've paid for the 2008 crisis, is by no means a foregone conclusion. We might resist and be successful in throwing back their attacks on public services and wages. She's right to an extent, but let's think through some probabilities here. How likely is a determined fightback by workers pulling together after the most reactionary forces in Britain (more on this shortly) have scored a major strategic political victory?

On a more general point, despite their obsession with strike chasing and economistic demands too much of the far left are indifferent to the economic well being of the class they wish to lead. And that is one reason why, generally speaking, the centre left in the unions and wider politics tend to trump their influence. The way Judy skirts over it goes to show it's not important for her group, which is ludicrous considering most people will be thinking about their pockets as they cast their ballots. This indifference is idiotic. Better living standards mean exactly that. Working people tend not to get motivated when they're impoverished and ground down by the necessity of scraping for a crust. The best chances for progressive, socialist change occurs when they can lift their eyes to the horizon. Contrary to revolutionary mythology, catastrophe and crisis have the tendency to impoverish the political imagination of our class, not fire it.

A third point. Since the anti-capitalist fad of the late 90s/early 00s came and went, the far left have appropriated its blanket opposition to globalisation and with it the free movement of goods and services. Of course, these processes should be examined and critiqued. Understanding capitalism so we can change it is the point of socialist analysis, after all. And yet there is no nuance, no understanding that as capital grows and concentrates, its spread draws together productive apparatus, supply chains, administrative systems, and therefore the possibility of economic planning over greater distances and larger numbers of people. Markets are about power, yet they foster ever greater relations of interdependence. They make socialism more possible. From this perspective there is no case whatsoever for opposing the single market and withdrawing - leaving because it will fuck up British capitalism is self-indulgent nihilism.

We have already noted that market economics are always about power, which brings us onto the question of workers' rights. You only have to look across the Channel to see how EU law is no impediment to a foolhardy and likely doomed assault on workplace protections and labour market rights. Unfortunately, however, matters are much less combustible north of Dover's white cliffs. Disputes here are not dead, but they are sporadic and tend toward successful outcomes only where density and solidarity is high to begin with. London Underground workers are an obvious example, but so too is the partial retreat inflicted on the Tories by the junior doctors. I wish it were not the case, but our movement in general is weak for a number of reasons. The measures the Tories have got through since 2010 - ballot thresholds, the extension of the right to fire without reason for a further year, job tribunal fees, ending check off, these didn't pass because of the "misleaders" of the organised labour movement - they met little opposition thanks to the crisis affecting our class, one that has us atomised and privatised. Now it may be there are some in labour movement positions who use this as an excuse to do very little, but it nevertheless is a fact of political life. How we overcome this is, in my opinion, a long process, but that's for another time. Immediately, now, in the midst of the EU referendum campaign we have to again ask whether the workers rights legislation required by the EU is something worth defending, or are negligible and "meagre", as Counterfire puts it.

Well, yes. They are. And the EU didn't stop the Tories putting the thumbscrews on the protections we have. Nevertheless, when our class is incredibly difficult to mobilise beyond sectional issues (how many RMT'ers have flooded into the Labour Party?) to say the floor provided by EU legislation doesn't really matter is complacency of the worst sort. It matters very much to union reps tasked with organisation - ask them, it's one reason why they're mostly for staying. And for the gaggle of right wingers in the upper echelons of Leave, for them health and safety laws, rights to paid leave, rules governing part-time workers are so much flim-flam ripe for repeal. Some on the far left might like to see them try, but champing at the bit for a battle you're not equipped to win is beyond stupid.

Those are the economics, and it's a choice between what there is now and a scenario likely to lead to the impoverishment and further defeats of our class. No matter how you frame it, no amount of wishful thinking and radical verbiage is going to change it.


Speedy said...

No doubt the stupidity on the right will be matched by some of those on the left - the usual suspects - and everyone knows Jeremy speaks through gritted teeth because, as you say, he represents a part of the left that doesn't give a toss (or even really understand) ordinary people - it is more concerned about using them to get in to power itself.

But what really irritates me is not only that exiting the single market will make a lot of people worse off, but it will be used to beckon a scorched earth US style policies which will further impoverish people and impact on the public sector (not least the NHS, which will be opened up to the private sector under WTO rules).

I know the Tories are evil. You know the Tories are evil. I suspect also the Brexit supporting Left know this very well and actually wish it upon the lumpen prols so they can see the true face of capitalism and it will somehow push them further to the Left.

However, this betrays a disdain for ordinary people that is alien to the Labour movement and is at the heart of the failure of the USSR, and why the Left will always fail, while pulling down as many innocent people as possible with them, and why it sits firmly in the evil corner with the capitalists. The lacklustre support for the Remain cause by Labour under Corbyn may well contribute to this loss, and will not be a victory for the Left but a further reason for its inherent failure.

BCFG said...

Clearly the worst position of all the positions out there is that held by Cameron and his fellow travelers in the remain camp, which is ‘we’ should remain in the EU, get all the benefits of the single market but do all we can to trash worker and consumer protections/rights. So no one on the left should ever be seen to be endorsing Cameron and his position. Incidentally I would be more concerned about consumer protection than worker protection should we vote to leave.

This is why Corbyn’s tactic of developing a separate remain campaign based on protecting existing rights and extending them further is the position that should be supported by all leftists, and that includes the Yvette Cooper loving centre left.

The unfree media has been appalling at reflecting the fact that both the remain and leave positions are themselves split between a broadly social democratic and neo-liberal version. But for the media (and idiots like speedy) this relatively simple to get your head round proposition is beyond their grasp, equivalent to explaining Wittgenstein's tractatus in less than 30 words. So all we get is Cameron v Gove. Pathetic!

While I will vote to remain I am not bought on this guff about the free movement of people. The vast majority of people do not move freely as it comes at a cost, the more money you have the freer you are to move, simple as that. So when the remain camp use freedom of movement as an argument for remaining they are basically speaking to 1% of the population.

We also see with the disgusting reaction from the EU to migrants that their free movement involves a perilous journey that puts their lives at risk. The EU has forced these desperate people into even more hazardous journeys as the EU brings down the Iron curtain. They have done this in response to public pressure. The non radicalised white folk of Europe want the migrants stopped and are happy if they drown in the sea. This of course is a perfectly normal and non radical position to take. The only problem we have are those radicalised Muslims!

Igor Belanov said...

The problem with the 'lacklustre support' argument is that it is quite obvious that Corbyn could attend Prime Minister's questions in a frock resembling the European Union flag yet it would pretty much be ignored by the media. What TV and the newspapers want is the 'entertainment' of Cameron and Osborne fighting it out with their 'mates' Johnson, Gove and Duncan-Smith, and lots of focus on businessmen and the 'very real concerns' of bigots opposed to immigration. Even Farage, publicity-seeker par excellence, has received very little attention. And when Labour have been mentioned in the referendum news, it has been some Blairites complaining about Corbyn. Plus ca change...

Boffy said...

Corbyn made a lengthy policy speech on the EU and remain last week, and the news channels showed about 30 seconds of it. There have been lots of speeches made by Corbyn and McDonnell around the country making the case for Remain on a social democratic basis, but that fact contradicts the narratives that the media have created about Corbyn really supporting Brexit, so they don't show it.

Its why we should use the right of a free media to establish our own Labour Movement media outlets.

Alan Dutton said...

Where I fully support some of the comments made on previous comments made, there is one main factor that everyone is overlooking when they talk about Labour Left, Labour Left Centre and Right, that is unless Labour as a whole get their act together, retake Scotland and decide whether they are Labour or Tory light, we are going to be stuck with a Tory Government for many years to come.

Therefore dreams of Labour changing or reforming the EU if we remain is as much of a pipe dream as Jeremy being the first man to walk on Mars. The EU is corrupt, Britain have as much chance of reforming Europe as we have of winning the Eurovision Song Contest, the only chance we have of changing Europe is from outside of the EU, certainly not in it.

In one for Cameron's ramblings on Central news he quoted "the Midlands is the Power House of Industry, and Jaguar will do far better in the EU instead of outside" Jaguar sell more cars outside the EU to America, China, the Arab Emerates etc than they do in Europe, I have not seen many Jags in Greece, Spain certainly not in France or Germany, so who does buy them in Europe. Yet more of Cameron's misleading dribble.

Finally I am not against immigration, I think immigration is a good thing, but immigration with skills we need, in the same way Brits take their skills elsewhere. Another comment of Cameron's "migrants will have to be here for four years before they can claim benefits" total rubbish, how is that going to work? We will have more beggars, more rough sleepers and certainly more crime. Our Sons and Daughters died protecting our shores from invasion, we are now opening our shores to any Tom, Dick or Harry, when more Countries join we will have more, we need control, not the false promises of the Tory Government who said in their election campaign "we will limit immigration to 10,000 per annum", that figure was exceeded in the first quarter. The only sensible result is to leave, bring our Sovereignty back fight the Government within the UK to make sure our workers rights are protected, the Young Doctors did it without help from Europe, I was on the Picket line with them, the support from the public was great! So in conclusion we don't need Europe to fight our Battles we are big enough to fight our own, as for Trade do any of you think Europe will turn their back on the UK? No they may sulk for a month or two, but they will get over it, plus there is an even bigger market out there, a market with wealth outside the Euro Zone and we will be better of by circa £10 billion to boot!