Di David Hunt - George Galloway, key 'Lexit' advocate, CC BY 2.0
The referendum on the UK exiting or staying in the European Union is not some popularity contest about whether you like or dislike the EU. Nor is it simply an internecine split among British Tories or capitalists which is of little interest to the rest of us – apart perhaps from sitting back to enjoy watching them tear each other apart. That would be lazy, narrow-minded and short-sighted. It is not necessarily the Left that will benefit from their divisions, especially if there is a right-wing Brexit victory to leave supported by its left-wing equivalent Lexit. Too much is at stake, especially for workers and socialists, both in the threats of a ‘Little Britain’ outside the EU, and in the potential for a wider fight against neo-liberal austerity in a hopefully ‘better Europe’.
The poverty of Lexit
Lexit, the socialist case for leaving the EU, is like a three-legged stool where one sturdy leg takes all the weight but the other two are bent, buckled or missing. Lame or one-legged, it not surprisingly falls over.
If one sturdy leg was enough, the fact that the EU is neo-liberal, drives austerity, is undemocratic and murderously brutal in its treatment of refugees would undoubtedly be sufficient argument for a UK exit. It largely explains why the EU is widely unpopular, and why Brexiteers have been able to make the running, with UKIP and the Tory Right forcing Cameron to hold the referendum. It is why both Brexit and Lexit have an easy appeal, and why the official Remain campaign has an uphill job trying to make the EU popular or persuade people they benefit from membership, although the Left can take advantage of the EU framework as we shall see.
One leg is not enough – there’s also the Little Britain threat, and the question of creating a ‘better’ rather than an even worse Europe. Slogans about the EU being a ‘capitalist club’ and dismissing it all as ‘a bosses Europe’ might be good socialist rhetoric, or rather tired clichés, but either way they don’t begin to analyse the real political threats and possibilities. Claims that the next capitalist crisis will have more economic impact might be right but here they’re economistic evasions which lazily avoid most of the actual political issues thrown up by the referendum. The uncomfortable reality is that saying ‘No to a bosses Europe’ could end up saying ‘Yes to a bosses Little Britain’. The stool is unstable, the argument impoverished.
We must also consider what the leaving option might lead to and its wider political consequences. Would it help or hinder trying to make a ‘better Europe’ possible? Even from a narrow British perspective, the UK, whether in or out of the EU, will still be part of Europe as some people need reminding.
The UK – like the EU – is at present neo-liberal, drives austerity, is undemocratic and has supported the brutal treatment of refugees. Indeed the UK pushed for the EU to become more neo-liberal. And now some Brexiteers want more brutality towards immigrants in general. Brexit would be a major victory for the Right and extreme Right. Following it, the UK on its own would more than likely become even more neo-liberal, more undemocratic, and/or more right-wing, worse than now.
Some in the Brexit camp, including its large financial backers and small capitalists trading within the UK, see leaving the EU as escaping regulation and allowing or resulting in even more neo-liberalism, not less. Some Brexiteers are simply racist xenophobes, others immigration obsessives convinced into scapegoating immigrants as the cause of Britain’s problems. Convinced, that is, by a vicious right-wing press, and irresponsible opportunistic politicians – not only Brexiteers but also appeasers in the Remain campaign, including Blairites who belatedly try to show ‘concern’ for a working class they long ago abandoned – a pathetic attempt to regain the millions of votes they lost during their-oh-so-‘successful’ Blair years. And/or the Brexiteers are nostalgic for empire and ‘British greatness’ as an independent world power – stale pie-in-the-sky.
How ironic then if a Brexit victory were to lead to the ‘world power’ splintering, Scotland perhaps breaking away if England votes to leave but Scotland votes to stay – the latter looking likely; and possibly Wales and probably Northern Ireland as well, so Little Britain might become an even more right-wing Little England.
In Northern Ireland the 1998 ‘Peace Agreement’ was based on cross-border institutions, island-wide social and economic integration, and at least the possibility of achieving ‘a united Ireland by peaceful means’. But whatever the precise border arrangements, that non-violent route to political re-unification would be closed off if the Irish border were to become an external border of the EU. And wouldn’t that encourage the ‘dissident republicans’ to ratchet up their ‘military means’ of getting their ‘united Ireland’, and in response unionist thugs return to killing Catholics? It’s a question which doesn’t seem to have occurred to Britain’s Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, the ardent Brexiteer Teresa Villiers, or maybe she just doesn’t care.
The Brexiteers say they will ‘restore democracy from Brussels to Britain’s parliament’, but this touching democratic concern would be more convincing if they weren’t generally oblivious to the fact that the UK’s ‘first past the post’ system to elect parliament is now the most grotesquely anti-democratic in Europe, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the EU. Brexiteers blame ‘Europe’ for sins of omission and commission which they happily made themselves in the UK and would return to with relish if they win the referendum. The electoral basis of the Brexiteer’s spurious ‘sovereignty of parliament’ concern can (unlike proportional representation) result in unassailable majority governments which get less than a third of the votes cast, or support from less than a quarter of those entitled to vote. It is partly why a truncated Little England could be even more right-wing – and this lack of democracy is before we even consider the politics of neo-liberalism or the inherently anti-democratic Eurozone.
There seems little doubt that victory for the assorted rag-bag of Brexit reactionaries would make life more difficult for socialists and workers in general, in the UK and beyond.
Lexit, Brexit – what’s the difference?
Lexiteers will be seen by many as tagging along behind Brexit, so in an understandable but rather desperate attempt to distance themselves from the Brexiteers, they emphasise they’re motivated by socialist principles. Fair enough, they are. Some however go further to suggest that these principles, such as opposing neo-liberalism and racism and supporting democracy, dictate leaving the EU. They assume or pretend there’s only one answer. However, any attempt by Lexiteers to monopolise these principles should be rejected, especially if they imply that socialists who disagree with leaving are ‘unprincipled’ (which would be a ‘socialist’ equivalent of the phony arguments which litter the official Brexit and Remain campaigns). The truth is these general and shared principles cannot tell socialists how to vote in the referendum one way or the other. If only it were that easy there’d be no argument, no disagreement on the Left. But the fact is there will be principled socialists voting ‘Leave’ and ‘Stay’, or ‘Abstain’, depending on how they assess present circumstances, the actual issues, and the probable consequences of different actions. And it should be admitted on all sides of the socialist argument that there is a lot of scope for different assessments.
Making a proper assessment is vital and it means looking at all three ’legs’ of the stool: not only at what’s wrong with the EU which is plenty, but secondly, assessing what leaving or staying means in the UK, and thirdly, what it means for a ‘better’ rather than a ‘worse’ Europe?
The last question will have to involve the Euro – one of the EU’s most undemocratic elements and a major cause of its growing instability and unpopularity, seen dramatically in the mistreatment of Greece. The UK (unlike say Greece) is in the EU and not in the Eurozone, but this helps avoid the common mistake of treating the EU and Eurozone as synonymous (as if Brexit means the same thing as Grexit). Here the UK situation might provide a lead for other member states. This is important because the Greek experience suggests that staying in the EU but leaving the Eurozone (at least temporarily) is an option which Syriza made the mistake of not taking – by clinging to the Euro, it lost its bargaining power and escape route.
This option might well be a good idea the next time a weak member of the Eurozone gets into economic trouble – and there almost certainly will be a next time. The basic problem is the Euro is deeply flawed, a single currency without a single state. Hence there is not the internal solidarity which would enable the large-scale financial transfers from economically strong parts of the Eurozone (e.g., Germany) to weak ones (e.g., Greece), which happen routinely within national states. The Brexit bogey-man of a federal European state does not exist, nor is the federalist dream of a ‘United States of Europe’ going to happen any time soon. The present EU mantra of ‘greater economic and political integration’ means not a democratic super-state but mainly German attempts to impose stronger neo-liberal rules. However, the single currency and remaining in the Eurozone cuts off the usual escape route of currency devaluation for national states with weak economies. Furthermore, in the Eurozone context weak economies don’t simply ‘happen’: they are actively created by the workings of the single currency in the competitive market – beyond democratic control – which means that stronger economies make weaker ones weaker (as Germany’s extreme neo-liberal deflationary policies contribute to the weakness of Greece and other Eurozone members).
The Eurozone’s pretense of success was punctured by Greece, though to try and maintain the pretense, and the illusion that Euro rules are always obeyed (a message to more important economies like Spain, Italy and France), the zone’s technocrats persist with forcing policies on Greece which even the IMF knows are counterproductive and bound to fail. In short, the Euro is a doomed project, certainly in its present form, and it could well drag down the EU itself to the benefit of right-wing forces. Much better if the future is shaped by building anti-neo-liberal campaigns across Europe, rather than by Brexiteers and the other nationalistic reactionaries who currently make much of the running against the EU. Either radically changing or getting rid of the Euro entirely is central to the fight for a ‘better Europe’, but how and when is a bigger question for another day. One way or another, UK socialists will need to be involved, though the Euro is not directly an issue in the UK referendum.
In the referendum, socialists supporting Lexit will have difficulty in clearly differentiating their position from the right-wing Tory/UKIP Brexit before the vote, and perhaps even more-so after it if they are instrumental in handing victory to the right-wing. This could well happen in a close vote and their stool would fall over in a reactionary heap. That they contributed to this result on the basis of ‘socialist principles’ would be small consolation. They won’t be thanked for it; perhaps won’t even thank themselves. They should beware what they wish for.
It would be an ‘ultra-leftist infantile disorder’, or some sort of deluded ‘scorched earth’ fantasy, for Lexiteers to imagine that such an important right-wing victory, and defeat for Britain’s trades unions and wider Left, would somehow advance the cause of socialism. Demoralized by defeat and faced with division many people are more likely to run for cover – reactionary cover. There could of course be some benefits for the Left from the divisions and problems created for big capital and ‘the establishment’, both in the UK and in the workings of the EU, but any gains would probably be relatively minor or short-lived, big capital would recover, and the downsides would arguably be greater. And in the UK it’s even conceivable that a narrow victory for Remain would leave the Tories even more bitterly divided.
Furthermore, those opposing centralizing and amalgamating tendencies (which include the EU) just because they are driven by big capital, create another one-legged stool which again ignores the Brexit problems of Little Britain, and the opportunities for creating a ‘better Europe’. As an antidote to the reflex of simply opposing what big capital or its representatives want, it is useful to reflect on Marx and Engels supporting German unification in the mid-19th century: it’s not an exact parallel – historical ones never are – but they favoured all the separate German states and statelets being amalgamated in the larger united Germany despite the fact that both the process and the outcome were dominated by the Prussian empire which they abhorred.
Overall, a victory for Brexit (with some help from Lexit) would further advantage right-wing forces. Here, an abstentionist (and very understandable) ‘plague on both your houses’ is preferable to Lexit in not actively supporting their objectives. But ‘Abstain’ is also a one-legged stool in that it too fails to grasp the opportunities for a ‘better Europe’ and doesn’t actively oppose the potential horrors of a Brexit victory – clearly victory for the Right in the UK (with the possible and partial exception of Scotland, though only the most narrow-minded Scottish nationalist would welcome a more right-wing England). But on the continent where so-called ‘Euroscepticism’ has been largely confined to extreme right-wing nationalist organisations, the main political beneficiaries of Brexit – in an immediately ‘worse’ Europe – would be semi-fascist or outright fascist groups, within Le Pen’s Front National, for example, in Italy’s Lega Nord, and in similar parties in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, the Baltic states and elsewhere.
At the same time, it must be admitted that socialists who oppose Brexit and Lexit and advocate staying in the EU have the substantial problem of differentiating themselves from the Remain campaigners of big capital, Cameron’s Tories, Blairite Europhiles and other assorted centre-right forces. These socialists too (myself included) are open to accusations of tagging along behind some unsavory characters (e.g., Cameron, Mandelson and others ‘relaxed’ about extreme wealth) – behind an often unsavory official Remain campaign which generally mirror-images Brexit in the ‘quality’ of its arguments. They – we – also risk ‘guilt by association’. But there are important differences, both in the content and character of the two official campaigns; and in the greater possibilities for anti-Brexit-Lexit socialists to differentiate themselves from official ‘Remain’ by campaigning enthusiastically for a ‘better Europe’ where the EU would remain a central target to be attacked from the inside.
However, in attacking the EU it is simply wrong to deny that it supports some benefits, and at the very least more so than Britain’s toxic ‘New Right’ mix of uber-liberalism and reactionary conservatism over the last four decades (e.g., various workers’ rights, environmental protections, and the free movement of labour – a benefit in itself for workers, and how can you support immigrants and not favour their free movement, not to mention freedoms for British emigrants?). This is not to argue that the EU’s now largely-eroded ‘social Europe’ is some sort of workers’ benevolent society; it never was and rights have always to be fought for whatever the political framework. It’s enough to argue that on all these rights the EU has a better record than the UK; that a UK on its own is more likely to demolish these rights; and that fighting to protect and expand them is easier with the UK in the EU than outside it. On jobs and economic growth the official campaigns hurl very dubious statistical predictions at each other, but it does seem likely that Brexit would lead to people losing jobs.
Much of the rhetoric of both official campaigns is increasingly absurd, garnished with claptrap about Hitler, Churchill, ISIS, and World War III. But it doesn’t make sense to pretend that the forces involved in the rival official campaigns are equally obnoxious or equally dangerous. The Brexit right-wingers are in general more right-wing. More importantly, while the rather bloodless Remain campaign of big capital is heavily reliant on bogus ‘security’ arguments and questionable economics, and seemingly unable to engage with issues of democracy, the Brexiteers’ right-wing populism with its false promise of democracy and national sovereignty is a much greater political threat to socialist advance. It has much more emotional appeal and is a direct rival to socialist organisation in terms of getting support from disaffected working class people.
In the UK and more specifically England, there is the particular problem that right-wing populism can feed off an imperialist nationalism which was honed over several centuries of conflict with continental powers like Spain and France. Its tendency to xenophobia and a superiority complex towards foreigners has long been recognized as a ‘congenital defect’. Only a minority of workers in England suffers from it and many actively resist it, but nevertheless this is a minority which can do a lot of damage.
In the 19th century Marx and Engels saw widespread anti-Irish attitudes as the Achilles’ heel of the working class in England, and now the more general category of ‘anti-immigrant’ is the closely-related contemporary equivalent. Not that Britain has any monopoly here: similar attitudes can be found in Ireland’s working class despite its anti-imperialist history, though it’s noteworthy that the unionist section with its own exaggerated version of British nationalism is markedly more chauvinist (e.g., as measured by attacks on immigrant workers and their families). Brexit, as well as directly threatening the roughly 3 million EU immigrants in the UK, and the somewhat smaller number of UK citizens who have emigrated to other parts of the EU, would only boost the Achilles’ heel of xenophobia. Unfortunately, Lexit could be its unwitting and unintentional accomplice: advocating exit feeds into British chauvinism and is another reason for socialists to advocate staying.
‘Coalitions of the dispossessed’
However, to really make sense of the present options and contending forces, we need a broader perspective on contemporary economics and politics which links the EU’s unpopularity, the activities of elites and the rich, the effects of neo-liberal austerity, and the very surprising and widespread eruption of various ‘coalitions of the dispossessed’, of which the anti-EU right-wing populist movement is only one example. The coalitions are in fact generally rival coalitions to the left as well as to the right of established powers; and, although other contingent or particular factors are always involved, they have basically been created (or ‘dispossessed’) by the four decades of global neo-liberalism embraced in varying degrees by establishment powers and parties (including EU elites), and still on the rampage despite giving us the banking crisis of 2007-8.
This relates directly to all those mainly working class people who feel, and in fact often were, abandoned by the neo-liberalism of erstwhile social democracy (e.g., Blairism), and whose defection to right-wing populism (e.g., UKIP) produced the EU referendum in the first place. It also helps explain the emergence of Donald Trump’s right-wing coalition in the US, and its rival and perhaps even more surprising alternative ‘socialist’ coalition around Bernie Sanders. It’s behind the varied mix of left-wing anti-austerity coalitions across the EU, including the totally unpredicted rise of Jeremy Corbyn, which actually oppose neo-liberalism as distinct from scapegoating immigrants (though some right-wing coalitions, including nationalistic populisms in Eastern Europe, do both; and it’s worth noting that Trump, ever the opportunist, sometimes indulges in anti-neo-liberal as well as anti-immigrant rhetoric).
Equally surprising is the fact that perhaps the best explanation of these twin but very different right and left responses was published in 1944 – in The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi, an Austrian political economist. Faced with the devastation of two World Wars, the 1930s Depression, growing inequality, the rise of communism (then heavily distorted by Stalinism), and, especially, the rise of anti-semitism and fascism across Europe, Polanyi laid the blame squarely on liberal, market-led capitalism (neo-liberalism in today’s terms). His fellow-Austrian, Friedrich von Hayek, whose The Road to Serfdom published in the same year would become the bible of neo-liberalism, believed the capitalist ‘free market’ was naturally and benignly ‘self-regulating’, and should be protected from political (i.e., democratic) ‘state interference’. The Eurozone is perhaps the most extreme expression of his ideology – well insulated from direct democratic accountability at national level and effectively run by technocrats. But interestingly, to judge from the blatant flouting of democracy in their mis-handling of the Greek crisis, the Eurozone is also perhaps one of the most brittle and vulnerable expressions of Hayek’s ideology, potentially ripe for a concerted EU-wide attack.
Polanyi cuts right through Hayekian ideology. In reality the so-called liberal laissez-faire system did not emerge ‘naturally’ but had to be created by states; and its continued maintenance depends on support from states and social institutions. It is dangerous utopian nonsense to believe a ‘free market’ could exist without them. The key political question then is the character of these institutions and the always contestable state-market relationship. The problem with liberalism (now neo-liberalism) is that it artificially separates out the economy from its social setting and elevates the market above society. It thereby erodes or destroys the social institutions in ways which are politically de-stabilizing (Greece in the Eurozone is a case in point); and the problem for neo-liberalism itself is that its own actions eventually result in the destruction of its own social basis (as seen with Trumpism, and US democracy being replaced by plutocracy).
Marketization boosted by privatization means more and more of the necessities of life and other goods are commodified – produced and sold to make profit – and money becomes the measure of all things in a system which ‘knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. There is also a strong in-built tendency to increase inequalities, the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer (as widely experienced since the 1970s, not least in the UK and the US). While the super-rich plutocrats can buy political influence, the result for more and more people is they don’t have the money, or not enough of it, to acquire necessities which are now only available through the market (and require credit, further increasing indebtedness). The capitalist market has to be controlled by various counter-measures, such as the welfare and nationalisation policies which reduced inequalities in the three decades after World War II; if ‘free’ from controls the market actively destroys, removes or erodes the social institutions on which all but the very wealthy depend in their daily lives. In response people seek social protection from marketization in different types of politics, moving away from the establishment’s neo-liberal centre-ground, either stupidly, self-destructively to the right, or more sensibly to the left.
Anti-EU populism is a clear case of the former, part of a widespread, contradictory and dangerously irrational tide now being encouraged and surfed by opportunists like Farage and Johnson. In the more extreme circumstances of Polanyi’s day this sort of tide ended up electing Hitler who brought Germans full-employment but also World War II and the Holocaust. Today we get the scapegoating of immigrants, and supposedly ‘respectable’ politicians pandering to the scapegoaters, both of which are not only disgusting but pathetic distractions from actually dealing with the real problems created by neo-liberalism. But understandably, the established and often social democratic centre-ground which supports neo-liberalism is held responsible (if sometimes in a very confused way), and such political forces as Blairite Labour, Clinton Democrats and the Irish Labour party – and the elites of the EU – hemorrhage support and effectiveness. So defeating the right-wing reactionaries, such as UKIP and worse, increasingly depends on the left-wing opponents of neo-liberalism and their diverse ‘coalitions of the dispossessed’ which have included Syriza and now Popular Unity in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Der Linke in Germany, People before Profit in Ireland, Corbynism in Britain and other anti-austerity movements.
Now is not 1975
This broad configuration of establishment forces leaching support to, and being opposed by, coalitions to left and right characterizes contemporary times. It is the context in which the various EU options have to be assessed: highly volatile, markedly more prone to capitalist crisis, and very different from 1975 when the UK last voted on membership of the then Common Market. The differences are worth stressing. Nostalgia, and the fact that in 1975 many on the Left voted to leave, seem unduly influential with some present-day socialists, as if they haven’t thought much about the issue since then, are drifting along on auto-pilot, and have merely registered that the EU has become more neo-liberal which only confirms the rightness of their 1975 decision.
A related worry is some of us remember a much more vibrant debate between socialists then, despite there being better reasons to leave (though that could be nostalgia on our part). It was forty years ago, and there’s been four decades of neo-liberal globalization since. In 1975 the UK had been a member of the Common Market for only three years, and Britain’s ‘Broad Left’ was developing its own ‘Alternative Economic Strategy’ (AES) for nationally-based social reconstruction. Now the UK has been a member for forty-four years; and Corbynism does not begin to compare with the Broad Left and its AES either in terms of trades union-based strength or political-economic objectives. But in 1975 there was also nothing to compare with the present-day ‘coalitions of the dispossessed’ and especially the mass anti-austerity movements across the EU with which to make common cause. EU-wide co-ordination of their combined opposition to the neo-liberal austerity policies at the EU level and to the related policies at their own state level is now a major challenge and opportunity for the Left. Faced with austerity policies which are mutually reinforcing across the two levels, an effective anti-austerity opposition has to be mutually reinforcing in similar fashion but in the opposite direction.
This is the clear route by which anti-Brexit-anti-Lexit socialists can relatively easily differentiate themselves from the Remain campaign of big capital (as well as from the nastier nationalistic implications of exiting). Campaigning enthusiastically for a ‘better Europe’ with whole-hearted opposition to Little Britain and to neo-liberalism is the way to go. It certainly cannot be enthusiasm for the neo-liberal EU itself despite it supporting some benefits. Nor can it rely on enthusiasm for the very worthwhile goal of democratising the EU’s central institutions (as propagated by Yanis Varoufakis). This is a secondary rather than primary objective which, while it usefully hits a raw nerve in the EU, is not an adequate focus for building a mass popular movement. Instead what’s needed is the enthusiastic embrace of anti-austerity internationalism which uses or takes advantage of the common EU framework.
Here it must be acknowledged that anti-austerity (or any other) socialist internationalism in Europe does not depend on EU membership, and of course it must include opposition to EU imperialism rather than stopping at the EU’s territorial borders (always a danger with the EU framework, comparable to being fenced in or trapped by national state borders). But in the present context, sharing the common political framework provided by the EU brings at least two types of advantage which can help convert internationalist rhetoric into material reality.
Firstly, there are general and potential advantages of the EU framework, not for what it can do itself, but rather in facilitating what co-ordinated mass movements from below could do within it. This does not assume the EU’s democratization, though that would help. Instead, it is a matter of the EU being a collection of supra-national institutions, programmes, policies, and political alliances which provide both a common framework and a common set of political targets and enemies for co-ordinating and focusing socialist opposition across the member states. And if you think this is internationalist pie-in-the-sky you could reflect that a lot more of it would already have happened if people weren’t so trapped by the territorial and ideological borders of ‘their own’ national states.
The importance of escaping the ‘national territorial trap’ is more clearly seen ‘in reverse’. Dividing the working class territorially into national, bordered compartments called states is one of the major ways in which capital divides and controls. We see this clearly at border crossings where workers notoriously can have difficulties but capital crosses easily. We see it in how people become tied ideologically to ‘their own state and nation’ often in opposition to other ones ‘outside’; and we are seeing that all too clearly now with the fabricated ‘immigrant worker problem’. It’s why socialists stress internationalism.
But actually implementing internationalism can be difficult – largely because of people’s different lived experiences in different national jurisdictions, with different education, health, social security and legal systems for instance, different media, political parties and electoral arrangements, the different timing of public events, and so forth. We see it for example in Ireland, where despite the North and South having a relatively high degree of integration, with many institutions straddling the border, the material existence of two separate jurisdictions can still greatly complicate cross-border co-operation, even reducing it sometimes to empty rhetoric. So the EU as a supra-national framework of states with a central parliament and executive, while far from being a state itself, offers a partial escape from the ‘national territorial trap’. The escape is only partial but in present circumstances it is certainly worth grasping, with the Left taking full advantage of the EU framework for its own objectives.
The second, related reason for staying within this framework is the potential opportunities it affords for developing organic links with anti-neo-liberal coalitions in other member states – to be stronger fighting common problems together and to learn from each other’s successes and also mistakes (where Syriza is tragically prominent). It is easier for UK socialists to fight from within the EU than from the outside looking in, as for instance in opposing the secretive and ultra neo-liberal Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US. The strongest mass opposition to TTIP has in fact been mobilized in Germany and British socialists can only gain by coordinating with it, whereas with a Brexit victory it is all too easy to imagine Little Britain rushing to do its own TTIP deal.
Most obviously this relates to Corbyn’s wing of the Labour party and its supporters to the left of Labour who rightly stay organizationally independent of it but will nevertheless be effected by how it develops, or fails to develop. If the movement doesn’t go forwards it will most assuredly be forced backwards (not least by embittered Blairites and their embedded camp followers in the ‘left’ media such as the Guardian, Observer and New Statesman).
The Corbynistas could immediately go forwards by initiating and publicizing links with the often more-developed movements on the continent. This, and cooperation with other left forces in the UK such as the Greens, ought to be high on their political agenda in the run up to the referendum on 23rd June. It fits well with the formal position which Jeremy Corbyn has held since before being elected Labour leader, but which was often missed or ignored by hostile and superficial political commentators because of his totally understandable lack of enthusiasm for the EU itself (ignored for instance by some Guardian commentators who should have read the news in their own paper). But formal (and sometimes overly personal moral) positioning is not enough from Corbyn.
With the Tories so divided and Cameron’s slick salesmanship wearing thin, Corbyn and his supporters (with Momentum ‘troops on the ground’) could substantially influence the anti-Brexit side of the argument. Not repeating the Scottish referendum mistake of sharing platforms with Tories, they could at least partly re-shape the arguments in their own anti-neo-liberal, anti-austerity terms if they grasp the opportunity (which is relatively rare for an opposition party and only arises because the governing Tories are split down the middle).
But they do need to show a lot more enthusiasm and strategic leadership which addresses all three legs of the stool. That is enthusiasm not for the EU itself but for taking advantage of the EU framework to build coordinated oppositions to neo-liberalism which are mutually reinforcing at national and EU levels and across the EU, recognizing that here neo-liberalism may be at its most vulnerable. It needs enthusiasm for staying to fight for a ‘better Europe’ and for avoiding the Brexit horrors of Little Britain or Little England.
Get our weekly email