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Elites unable to speak truth June 15, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Here’s some thoughts that echo much that has been said on this site in the last week or so in relation to the Brexit referendum. William Keegan writing about that last in the Observer notes that:

One of the ironies of the recent turn of events is that, after the Remain side thought they had had the better of the economic argument, they became concerned that the Brexit camp had given up on that front and began to play the race card.

And…

Although the British and international officials and economists who produce these forecasts are, in my experience, an honourable brigade, it is leading with one’s chin to publish precise forecasts of the impact of Brexit on people’s incomes in 2030. It was not difficult for the Brexiters to hit back at the chancellor with the marked discrepancy between his November forecasts and his March forecasts.

As for George Osborne’s warning that panic over Brexit might produce a collapse in house prices – well, this was intriguing: a fall in house prices is just what the younger generation wants, but not necessarily what the older, predominantly pro-Brexit, generation would be happy with.

While:

Now, it is apparent that both in this country with the onset of Ukip, in the US with the egregious Trump and continental Europe with the rise of the far right, the common factor might well be labelled “globalisation and its discontents”.

The other problem is dissatisfaction with elites. Many people don’t like being told what to do by governments and international bureaucrats. It was plainly with this in mind that the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, recently criticised London mayor Sadiq Khan for appearing on a Remain platform with David Cameron.

I think he and those who are making this point are absolutely correct. Elites are the worst possible people to be making these cases. And it’s not just that they are elites and by definition self-serving. It is that people are acutely aware following the latest crisis of capitalism how this actually is. Keegan, who is uncharacteristically (for a UK journalist) of John McDonnell argues that only people like McDonnell or Corbyn are in any position to articulate the benefits of remaining in the EU. I don’t know how many read the latters speech at the weekend but it was good, very clear-eyed about both the possibilities and the limitations of the EU.

Comments»

1. dublinstreams - June 15, 2016

because Corbyn and McDonnell aren’t elites?

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2. roddy - June 15, 2016

As someone who has a vote in the referendum, I have come round to voting remain .I initially was for abstaining but when it became clear that leave was almost totally based on anti immigrant feeling and general right wingery I will vote stay.However I am not and never be “a good European”.As far as I am concerned “good europeans” are middle class tossers who think they are the height of sophistication,put on affected French accents when spouting the few French phrases they know and put up to be experts in “good wine ” and “continental cuisine”.(the likes of Ruairi Quinn springs to mind for some reason!) However an exit would mean me living under a British right wing system with the likes of Johnson in charge,immigrants being treated like shite and the border in this country being reinforced for probably the rest of my life.

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Liberius - June 15, 2016

…who think they are the height of sophistication,put on affected French accents when spouting the few French phrases they know and put up to be experts in “good wine ” and “continental cuisine”.

Is all continental cuisine sophisticated or only certain proscribed dishes? And what of cuisine from the far-east, are my noodles safe from your seal of disapproval?

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Gewerkschaftler - June 16, 2016

Got in in one Roddy:

However an exit would mean me living under a British right wing system with the likes of Johnson in charge,immigrants being treated like shite and the border in this country being reinforced for probably the rest of my life.

It shows how degenerate the neo-lib EU has become, that you have to resort to that as a motivation to very reluctantly vote remain, but none the less it’s the most pressing one.

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3. Jolly Red Giant - June 15, 2016

The biggest betrayal of the referendum campaign has been the capitulation by Corbyn to the Blairites. If Corbyn had adopted a principled left-wing position on Brexit (as he has done for 30 years) the left could have wrestled the debate on Europe from the tweedledum/tweedledee stuff between Big Boris and the dead man walking.

For roddy – there is zero difference the British right-wing system currently operated by the Cameron wing of the Tories and any control by the Boris wing – they are two cheeks of the same arse.

In fact it should not be underestimated the damage that this is doing to the Tory party who are tearing themselves to pieces over the past six months. The xenophobia being promoted during the referendum campaign is far from deeply engrained in British society and is predominately caused by opposition to austerity and the diktats of the EU and the Tories (and Blairites). Irrespective of the outcome the political fallout is likely to see the opening of a political vacuum in Britain with an opportunity for the left to step into the vacuum and build a mass movement against austerity. We will see if Corbyn is willing or able to split from the Blairites or will he continue to be shackled by the right-wingers of the Labour parliamentary party.

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gendjinn - June 15, 2016

“The xenophobia being promoted during the referendum campaign is far from deeply engrained in British society…”

Eh? 400 years of empire engrained it pretty deeply. UKIP and the Brexit polling are just the most recent manifestations.

In the 70s it was petrol bombing “Paki” corner stores and Paddy bashing. They have a rotation going.

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Michael Carley - June 15, 2016

There are times when I despair of my own party.

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Ed - June 15, 2016

I can see plenty of good left-wing arguments for leaving the EU, as long as the people making them recognize that it’s a judgement call and others can differ in their assessment of what’s likely to happen after a vote to leave and what the balance of forces might be. No hint of that from JRG, I’m afraid. All the certainty of someone who doesn’t need to think because he just knows. And the inevitable, tedious reference to ‘betrayal’. Does it never get old?

BTW can anyone clarify, was Corbyn actually calling for Britain to leave the EU consistently (or at any point) over the last 10 or 15 years as a backbencher? He was harshly critical of the EU, certainly, but was he calling for leaving outright? I don’t remember hearing him saying it, but I could be wrong. Opposing the Maastricht Treaty isn’t the same thing as calling for an outright break. Of course, that doesn’t map directly onto the current situation, where the main push for a Brexit comes from the right. The Blairites certainly don’t seem to think that Corbyn has ‘capitulated’ to them; their media chums have been bitching and moaning for the last couple of months about Corbyn’s refusal to campaign on the same platform as Cameron and co; and in the last few days Brown, Darling and all the other crooks have been trying to repeat their performance in the Scottish independence referendum as Cameron’s patsies, sacrificing the interests of the Labour Party to help the ruling class out of a tight spot, because Corbyn and McDonnell have refused to do the same.

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Michael Carley - June 15, 2016

It’s the step-by-step nature of the argument, with no recognition that people might not do what you assume they will, that’s the problem. There are plenty of good left-wing arguments for getting out of the EU (Greece alone should be enough), but the argument from the SP (and I am a member) is poor. It consists of saying that if the UK votes to leave the EU, the Tories will implode, and the field will be open for a proper left alternative.

Has nobody thought of the possibility that capital might organize itself in the meantime? That the left is currently in no state to resist what will happen when the likes of Gove and Johnson have no restraints at all on them? That far from taking advantage of a Tory party in disarray, the labour movement will be running around trying to resist the employers who will be taking advantage of the new situation?

No, instead Tory implosion on 24 June, revolution on 25 June, full automated luxury communism on 26 June, sure we won’t even have to turn up for work on the Monday.

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gendjinn - June 15, 2016

In the 1860s, in the run up to increasing the franchise, some lord (cant find a reference online) said “Give them the vote, but we will choose who they vote for.” Taken to its logical conclusion you end up with Stross’s Beige Dictatorship.

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WorldbyStorm - June 15, 2016

Just on the Tory implosion theory, surely if that’s the ground we want to fight on a Remain is more likely to see them in tatters as the various elements fight amongst themselves over that result. I think in the instance of an Exit pretty much most Tory MPs would align with Gove and Johnson as the new leadership and accept the new dispensation. What would it profit them to do otherwise – and that links right into your point Michael re no restraints on Gove/Johnson. They’ll be men of the hour, and no mistake. As to the LP, it will be in a situation with UKIP sniping away at its support from a populist right and anti-immigrant position.

Urghhhh… it’s desperate to contemplate.

Just re parties. It’s not the SP alone who aren’t necessarily thinking this through – and in fairness to the SP all parties have oddities, to put it mildly. Generally the SP has been fairly calm and measured and thoughtful on issues across a good stretch of time.

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Michael Carley - June 15, 2016

My party’s position on the EU, like a couple of other things, I accept as the foible of an otherwise rational outfit (I’m still in it after all).

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Michael Carley - June 15, 2016

The step-by-step plan of how the left will clean up after Brexit reminds me of nothing so much as the scene in Oh What A Lovely War where the general explains that the soldiers will walk forward from the trenches and the Germans will crumble in the face of this display of resolution and fighting spirit.

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Jolly Red Giant - June 15, 2016

I will come back later and address the other issues.

Specifically in relation to Corbyn – in 1975 Corbyn voted in favour of leaving the EU. He has consistently opposed the EU since then. As late as the leadership election last year he expressed the view that he could back Brexit. He is a hostage to the Blairites who run the parliamentary party and many of the trade unions and has capitulated to them declaring yesterday that he was ‘overwhelmingly in favour of remaining’. He even had the audacity to claim that Brexit would be a nightmare for workers – as if the EU hasn’t been in the main responsible for EU wide austerity for the past eight years.

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WorldbyStorm - June 15, 2016

Is it that simple though JRG? He’s voted against further integration since 75, not exit. Whether he thought he could go for Brexit or not is a different matter. Whether we like it or not there are basic issues of policy development, votes and so on in any organisation. It’s fairly clear the membership, including the new membership, of the LP and the elected reps are for Remain. I think it would be as wrong for Corbyn to impose by diktat a policy that they wouldn’t wear as it would for the opposite to be done by say the right of the LP.

As to your last sentence, I’d think you over emphasise the instrumentality of the EU as distinct from the reality of right of centre administrations in government in key EU states – Germany etc. The EU tends for obvious reasons to reflect that in its political and economic orientation.

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CMK - June 15, 2016

Whatever about the EU being a ‘nightmare for workers’ (it has been that, at least, for Greek workers) it certainly hasn’t stopped non-stop neo-liberal attacks on workers.

I find the whole ‘stay in the EU and fight to protect workers rights’ utterly perplexing. At a time when 1 million French workers were protesting against new laws it’s clear that the EU does not stand as a barrier to the establishment of any EU member state which wants to wage class wage.

The EU is a best neutral on class warfare policies and, in many cases, supportive of such policies, so long as they are dressed up as technocratic measures.

The bona fides of the ‘Lemain’ case are the structures and organisations that have been waging campaigns for decades to bring in even half-decent social democratic principles into the foundations of EU law. You’ll struggle to find those as they largely don’t exist and they won’t exists in any substantive form post the referendum, regardless of how it goes.

I’m more and more convinced though that the EU and British establishment will take a leaf out of the Irish establishment’s book if it is a vote for ‘Brexit’.

There might be another referendum ‘to be sure, to be sure’ a little while longer after the Tories have extracted concessions from Brussels etc. I’m not fully convinced that a vote to leave will actually result in Britain leaving.

I am fully convinced, however, that there will be no distinctive difference between Tory governance pre-23 June and post-23 June.

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Ed - June 15, 2016

Ok JRG, so you haven’t heard Corbyn consistently calling for Britain to get out of the EU over the past 10 or 15 years either. It’s not just me. The most you’ve heard is him saying that he ‘could’ back Brexit, not that he would back it under any circumstances, irrespective of who’s leading the charge and on what grounds. I doubt there’s a socialist on either side of this debate who would say otherwise. I have no problem with people disagreeing with his line on this, but I find it very tedious when people claim that he was demanding an immediate exit from the EU at all times from 1975 to the day before he became Labour leader. That’s precisely the line UKIP supporters have been peddling about Corbyn’s position on the referendum. Who knows what line he would be taking if he wasn’t Labour leader? This is clearly an issue that divides opinion on the left, including the Marxist left.

As I already pointed out, the Blairites in the Labour Party are deeply unhappy with the line being taken by Corbyn and McDonnell (‘none of this TTIP rubbish’ as one of them so eloquently put it) and they’ve repeatedly tried to sabotage that line by forcing Labour into a campaigning alliance with Cameron; they’ve stepped it up in the last few days.

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Ed - June 15, 2016

BTW, I’m not impressed by a lot of the arguments being made by left-wing anti-Brexit people in the last few weeks, from (wrongly) presenting the EU as a bulwark of workers’ rights, to making lurid predictions of certain catastrophe if the Brexit side wins next week. On both sides of the argument, socialist should recognize that this is a difficult one to call, because the outcomes are so unpredictable.

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WorldbyStorm - June 15, 2016

CMK I agree with you the EU has been deeply problematic, and I’d be very critical of it, particularly its actions during the crisis (though again the reality of right of centre states in the majority across the EU with most SD parties being willing to collude has been a factor too). But given that I’m no starry eyed europhile – indeed anything but at this point, I’m not entirely convinced that it has been simply neutral. This by the TUC is interesting in terms of the impacts on UK employment rights – it’s disturbing how basic some of them are, and worse how UK govts have fought back against them, written terms and conditions of employment, working times (which even though dilute do have an impact on many workers) etc etc – which while noting the rightward trend also notes how EU legislation has been broadly positive and in some instances very positive (and as importantly has provided benchmarks against which to set standards – somewhat like the public sector wages and conditions have functioned similarly in this state and again why the right has been so keen to attack the PS for precisely this reason). Here as we know the government has been in a cleft stick over trade union recognition and collective bargaining where employers and their representative bodies have very explicitly sought to wave away same as ‘European style’ rights. That’s true of a range of other areas too.

https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/UK%20employment%20rights%20and%20the%20EU.pdf

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CMK - June 15, 2016

WbS, they’re all fair points and it is good to be reminded of how precarious things are for workers, in the sense that it undermines complacency.

However, the Left case against the EU as a defender of workers’ rights is much more robust than the TUC and Owen Jones et al acknowledge.

EU laws to ‘protect’ workers are supplementary to national laws, the latter resulting from decades of national trade union struggles. For the EU to be held up as a defender of workers then its fundamental process of ‘ever greater integration’ should, surely, lead to ever greater improvements in workers’ positions? Instead, ever greater integration of the EU parallels ongoing attacks across the EU on workers: Greece, for instance; the ongoing struggles in France against the El Khromi law; the disastrous spread of McJobs in Germany; and, the massive controversy in Italy over Renzi’s attempts to undermine workers position further. The EU stops none of these national processes and, instead, is a bulwark to them.

Then we have the EU’s penchant for ‘Labour Activation Schemes’ which gave us JobBridge, radically undermining the wage floor.

Far more has been achieved by national struggles for workers and these, of necessity, will need to develop EU wide to confront the EU neo-liberal onslaught. If the ‘Lemain’ campaign were serious then they should be do using on that, but I suspect once the referendum is over things will go back to normal. Incidentally, could the TUC not show some serious solidarity with French workers, for instance calling a protest across Britain in solidarity?

But I sympathise with those who faced with Farage, Gove and Johnson, want to give these forces a kick in the b*ll**ks by voting to remain. However, a vote to Leave the EU will spark a seismic existential crisi among the EU elite who are acutely aware that there are probably a dozen member states where a similar vote might succeed. Even if there were a series of ‘In/Out’ referenda in several other member states, and all were defeated, that still represents a huge crisis of legitimacy for the EU elites.

The whole debate reminds me of the Nice 1 and 2 debates here where those of us campaigning for a ‘No’ were accused of, among other things, wanting to keep Eastern European workers out of the EU. Of course, Nice was about much more than that but that was an emotive argument, that probably swung some people.

Anyway, I stick by my view that ‘Leave’ does not necessarily mean ‘Leave.’

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WorldbyStorm - June 15, 2016

A lot to think about there CMK, no mistake. Though I’m not certain the fact that EU laws are supplementary to national laws is perhaps proof positive that somehow they’re less valid. The EU is, of necessity, a newer entity than nation states across Europe. It’s clear that the laws it introduces will be newer and in many areas carry less weight than those of its member national states. Nt least progressive laws because national states tend to be dominated by the ‘centre’ right who resist their introduction.

And that it seems to me is why greater integration (which by the by I don’t support) doesn’t mean necessarily ever increasing protections for workers because there are countervailing forces at work – and that’s to put aside for a moment broader ideological and other dynamics that impact on both national states within the EU and the EU itself. Hence there is distinct bad mixed in with the good, as you rightly point to, and sometimes – again due to the complexion and nature of the EU that bad will outweigh the good. But, already we see a push back against ZHCs at national level in states from citizens and this has to be reflected at national level and then with effort at EU level. So it’s far from a one way street. There is scope inside the EU even unreformed and tilted as it is to make solid gains that can last for decades for workers.

Further more the EU can extend the national struggles that you also point to, and assist in cementing them, as is clear from the TUC doc referenced.

Just on that, I agree entirely, and I’d go further and suggest that if we are internationalists which we are then Europe and the EU structures become another site of struggle. It’s completely appropriate for solidarity to be expressed with other workers across the area, and it makes sense logistically because for one thing its simply easier to travel within the EU. Capitalism gets that from the off – for them its a feature not a glitch. Likewise it should be for the left.

Finally i’m always wary about hoping for seismic existential crises – the fact of right populists sprouting up is one part of that, but always always instability hurts workers. The idea of the EU disintegrating and literally nothing left in its wake – no progressive alliance, no structures to enhance cooperation between states that are in close geographic proximity – which is what we would see at this historical point fills me with deep concern. It’s one thing if there was a network of left led states in Europe that might achieve a critical mass with a successor socialist EU. But that’s not merely not there now, it seems unfeasible that it will happen in the foreseeable future. That being the case my preference would be for the left to start working the EU in the way you suggest through genuine solidarity across it between workers, ignoring as best as is possible the institutional structures while availing of the material benefits (freedom of moment, common currency area in the eurozone etc).

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CMK - June 16, 2016

WbS, your last paragraph covers many of the dilemmas for the ‘Lemain’ case as expressed so far in this debate. For all of the despair being articulated here about the Left arguing for a ‘Brexit’, I think there is a vacuousness to the ‘Lemain’ position which is astonishing in its political naivety. The ‘Lemain’ case boils down to the slogan: ‘stay in the EU and fight for workers’. That slogan is vacuous without a concomitant series of concrete political positions on how this can be implemented within the EU. Nowhere have I seen Owen Jones, Varoufakis or the TUC spell exactly how they intend to implement that within the EU. Nowhere.

The ‘Lemain’ case rests on hypotheticals about what the Tories, free from the EU, might do; about concerns over the freedom of movement for workers; about the boost a Brexit might give to the far Right etc. Farage, for instance, someone who is never out of the media and yet can’t get elected to the House of Commons, is given far to much prominence. His neanderthal views on maternity leave are frequently cited as an example of what could happen in the wake of a Brexit. Yet its doubtful, in the extreme, if he would ever be in a position to implement these views, Brexit or not. The Tories are vicious scum but they are politically astute vicious scum and they know scrapping or severely restricting maternity leave would guarantee them political oblivion.

But the ‘Lemain’ case ignores what we do know about about the way the EU operates. We know its rules preclude a Left wing government. A government can be elected on a Left wing platform, and Europeans are free to vote for Left wing parties, it’s just that EU law makes implementing any kind of substantive Left programme impossible. We know the EU removes elected governments and replaces them with technocrats at times of crisis. The EU is gung-ho in the Ukraine, something with potentially huge risks. The EU is 2/3 of the ‘Troika’ and all that that entails. Greece. The EU is content to let tens of thousands drown in the mediterrean and Aegean seas and force hundreds of thousands back to Turkey. Also, I am reliably informed that in many developing countries the EU is actively loathed by local NGOs as every single piece of aid it grants comes wrapped up in some form of neo-liberal conditionality. USAID and the World Bank are far better regarded, even in countries that the US were bombing the shit out of 40 years ago.

Finally, I think the EU establishment will make hay from the ‘Lemain’ case if the vote is to remain. A remain vote will re-inforce the vague notion of ‘Europe’ as progressive and the critiques of Europe articulated in many of the ‘Lemain’ arguments will be lost among the overriding view that it is better to be ‘In’ rather than ‘Out’.

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WorldbyStorm - June 16, 2016

CMK, I do have some thoughts but possibly will leave them until the morning.

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CMK - June 16, 2016

No bother.

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WorldbyStorm - June 17, 2016

WbS, your last paragraph covers many of the dilemmas for the ‘Lemain’ case as expressed so far in this debate. For all of the despair being articulated here about the Left arguing for a ‘Brexit’, I think there is a vacuousness to the ‘Lemain’ position which is astonishing in its political naivety. The ‘Lemain’ case boils down to the slogan: ‘stay in the EU and fight for workers’. That slogan is vacuous without a concomitant series of concrete political positions on how this can be implemented within the EU. Nowhere have I seen Owen Jones, Varoufakis or the TUC spell exactly how they intend to implement that within the EU. Nowhere.

There is no ‘Lemain’ case because there is no Lexit case. The forces involved on the left are too weak for any such case to be proposed, made or implemented in the UK or anywhere at this point. Brexit is entirely in the gift of the Tory and other right in the UK and anywhere else in Europe. The left in any form has no hand or part in shaping it and this will remain true for the foreseeable future. There is no alternative it can offer because it’s not at the table in any meaningful form. The left is marginal to all this from the off and therefore irrelevant and discussing this in terms of Lemain or Lexit is in a sense pointless. That is the objective reality of where we are.
But let’s play the game for a moment and note that implicitly the counter argument you seem to propose is ‘Leave the EU and fight for workers’. How does that make any sense whatsoever both in the context of the EU as is with some hard won victories, in the context of what we want to arrive at – which is genuine internationalist structures, in the context of the reality that it is the right and centre right which remains dominant in most EU states and is likely to be. How is it vacuous to argue that a bunch of individual nation states will present a bigger challenge to combatting the right and centre right with all the battles taking place in national contests and contexts than the broader political space of an existing EU (and again, I want to distinguish between that space and the institutional structures of the EU). I just don’t think it makes sense to argue that the links that are necessary between workers in those states are more easily forged (or maintained) in the context of no EU than in the context of an actually existing EU. Moreover and again where is the fully worked out Lexit programme?
And in fairness, while I don’t think that it is entirely up to Jones etc to articulate a fully worked out plan when the immediate issue is to retain that political space we actually have the fact is that Varoufakis et al have developed a programme of sorts with others around DiEM2025 – you may disagree with it, but it does exist. Even if the latter did not exist those who argue against a status quo, or a status quo with possibility, have a greater onus upon them to offer clear alternatives as to what they envisage occurring in the event of that status quo being superseded or how they will achieve various goals in the context of that taking place.
The problem is no such plans exist – what we are offered are aspirations. And built on what?
What are the mechanisms by which those who support an Exit can point to for retaining or building solidarity between European workers now locked into states with the higher barriers established by centre and right governents around their borders, not to mention how they contest against right and populist right forces who use faux left rhetoric to sway workers etc.
What indications are there that workers would radicalise in the event of Brexit? Or that it would skip like contagion from one EU state to another? If – as Fergal noted – there was no such radicalisation in the context of the crisis and after why would it happen on foot of a right victory in the context of Brexit?
We can hope that the working class will buck the trend of the last century or so and radicalise deeply and fundamentally, but that’s all it is, a hope.
Let’s also look at the track records in other states outside the EU. Where are the examples of states seriously seeing challenges from the left, either radical social democrats or further left? They’re pitifully few. Vanishingly few actually.
Even a look at the strength of those cohorts in states outside Europe suggests that it is much lesser. I’m certainly not suggesting the EU is responsible for that – I’d tend to the view that longer embedded dynamics are a part of it. But I would also think that simply by being in a broader socio political and economic context there are economies of scale, a very slightly more internationalist outlook (which can go a bad way in terms of simple uncritical europhilia or a good way of genuine solidarity between lefts in different European states) and so on.
Michael makes a crucial point in relation to weaker states and stronger states. The EU again for all its flaws offers voices to the former as well as the latter. Of course it’s flawed, it’s partial but it does exist. It is impossible to see the renewed emphasis on nationalities in Europe – a positive thing in certain ways, in the context of atomised individual nation states who would hold onto and repress such manifestations as we know from direct experience. Consider not just our own situation on this island where outright national sovereignty has been weakened but in the UK itself. Look at Scotland. Some of this is psychological, naturally. Some is delusional, but there are realities, for example a softening of centralisation as in Spain (to a degree), in the UK, etc in a way that outside the EU would be very difficult. It’s contradictory, slow, open to reverse and so on. But it does exist.
By the way, in an Irish context an Exit would be political suicide for any party that proposed it seriously, and it’s notable how quiet some are about it. Polling on the issue across decades and since the crisis show a continuing acceptance of EU membership on the part of Irish.
All of this is not to support the EU as an institution, but it is to say to that to ignore the possibilities and to not grab at all the advantages even while still be critical of the EU is problematic and it is to reiterate the point that far from those on the left who argue, reluctantly for Remain, having no plan, it is those who argue for an entirely imaginary Left Exit who are the ones without a plan.

The ‘Lemain’ case rests on hypotheticals about what the Tories, free from the EU, might do; about concerns over the freedom of movement for workers; about the boost a Brexit might give to the far Right etc. Farage, for instance, someone who is never out of the media and yet can’t get elected to the House of Commons, is given far to much prominence. His neanderthal views on maternity leave are frequently cited as an example of what could happen in the wake of a Brexit. Yet its doubtful, in the extreme, if he would ever be in a position to implement these views, Brexit or not. The Tories are vicious scum but they are politically astute vicious scum and they know scrapping or severely restricting maternity leave would guarantee them political oblivion.
This isn’t just about the Tories, it is about those broader critiques of the Brexit which I mention above. And it’s crucial to keep in mind again that Brexit isn’t Lexit. Again the Lexit case is so thin, so few people are making it, the forces involved are so marginal that it’s an irrelevance in all this. There’s no serious means by which it can be prosecuted or pushed forward. It has not traction, no capacity or capability. Nor is this just about Britain. But the Tories are the government of the UK. In the event of an Exit they will remain that government, but with a likely change of leadership to even more right wing forces. And UKIP will remain to their right and be pressuring them from that position. And while maternity leave is important, it’s only one issue. One need only see what this actual existing Tory government has attempted to do at times in the last year to see what a genuinely untrammelled Tory government might attempt to do.
Furrthermore in relation to Exit I’ve articulated elsewhere on this thread why it impacts directly upon us in this state. I can go further. In the event of an exit what happens to this state? There are serious voices saying we might have to leave too. I don’t know if that is the case but it is a distinct possibility. Is that good, our left suddenly detached from European lefts unable to as easily make links through institutions and the space of the EU? And the corollary, tied closer to a state with a reactionary leadership, and kind of stuck there, at prey to the whims of a Britsih electorate who aren’t exactly manifesting progressive tendencies in the contemporary period?

But the ‘Lemain’ case ignores what we do know about about the way the EU operates. We know its rules preclude a Left wing government. A government can be elected on a Left wing platform, and Europeans are free to vote for Left wing parties, it’s just that EU law makes implementing any kind of substantive Left programme impossible. We know the EU removes elected governments and replaces them with technocrats at times of crisis. The EU is gung-ho in the Ukraine, something with potentially huge risks. The EU is 2/3 of the ‘Troika’ and all that that entails. Greece. The EU is content to let tens of thousands drown in the mediterrean and Aegean seas and force hundreds of thousands back to Turkey. Also, I am reliably informed that in many developing countries the EU is actively loathed by local NGOs as every single piece of aid it grants comes wrapped up in some form of neo-liberal conditionality. USAID and the World Bank are far better regarded, even in countries that the US were bombing the shit out of 40 years ago.
Again, I don’t think that’s accurate. For a start it ignores a salient point I’ve made previously. The EU reflects to some degree the make up of the national governments that are in it. During the 1970s and 80s this was more social democrat (and actually quite traditionally social democrat). Latterly it is right and centre right. If sufficient governments of the left are voted into power, particularly core govts, then it will assume some of those characteristics. It’s a mistake to think that the EU today is the EU thirty years ago or that it is inevitable that it cannot change in the future. Indeed it is a mistake to see the EU as anything other than an instrument that has been held by the right and centre right for years. There’s nothing intrinsically built into it to stop left governments being elected in a majority of EU states and resisting the technocrats and right and amending and jettisoning that which we don’t like.
Which leads me to wonder are you saying that it is impossible for left governments to be elected in Europe? I think that’s a counsel of despair. But if the corollary of that is that it is possible for left governments to be elected in independent post-EU states where is the evidence for same? Keep in mind that SYRIZA at all times, or its largest factions, did not, any more than the Greek electorate, want to leave the EU. What alternative governments are we talking about? What left parties? What greater prospect do they have outside the EU? We have to address this as it is, not as we want it to be.
All the other points while valid in other contexts aren’t really relevant to the discussion. Yes, the EU acts in ways which we don’t want and don’t like. But do you believe that in a post-EU context of nation states any of those would be improved? Would an Europe whose only supranational entity might be – say – NATO for most of its states, somehow be an improvement? Would that space I’ve mentioned before of contest once removed be replaced by something better?

Finally, I think the EU establishment will make hay from the ‘Lemain’ case if the vote is to remain. A remain vote will re-inforce the vague notion of ‘Europe’ as progressive and the critiques of Europe articulated in many of the ‘Lemain’ arguments will be lost among the overriding view that it is better to be ‘In’ rather than ‘Out’.
But again this is about what is objectively better for workers not whether the EU ‘establishment’ is a bit ahead or a bit behind. The EU establishment until challenged from within by cohesive left forces led by left states in Europe is always going to be ahead on points. But that doesn’t mean we withdraw from the challenge.
Is it objectively better for workers to be in individual nation states that are nationalist, often reactionary, where sharing of any element of sovereignty is greeted with suspicion, isolationist, anti-worker, or in – for all its faults and flaws a broader even pseudo/partial more international space.
And again this comes essentially down to either an existing EU structure, fallible, problematic, deeply compromised but with a space that is continent wide and… well… what? No clearly thought out programme. No achievable (in the short or medium term) goals. Instead hoping against hope given the disposition of forces that individual national states in isolation are going to be better for the left and more importantly for workers? I genuinely don’t think it is those of calling from the left for a Remain who are without a plan.

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Michael Carley - June 16, 2016

For example, I despair of this:

Dave Nellist is one of the most principled and intelligent activists about, and he says this. Does he believe it is a matter of choice for the Left whether or not it cedes ground?

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Gewerkschaftler - June 16, 2016

Yep – the left in Britain is not strong enough to resist a right-wing nationalism with the wind in it’s sails post Brexit. Nellist’s position would make some sense if there was a wide-spread, anti-racist popular movement with large numbers and a good presence in potential zones of resistance like the trades unions.

But there isn’t. Outside of Nellist’s head.

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Michael Carley - June 16, 2016

We’re barely able to resist that nationalism now. I think, in all fairness to Dave Nellist, who I do respect enormously, this is a case of the imperial delusions of the English left. A lot of people here, for all that their instincts are sound, seem unable to see things from the point of view of relatively weak countries or nationalities.

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4. roddy - June 15, 2016

Brexit can never be construed as a victory for the left.It will be a victory for the right who will be emboldend by it.Cameron and johnson are both despicable counts as far as I’m concerned but Brexit will prolong me having to endure their ilk by reinforcing the border.

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5. roddy - June 15, 2016

What now for the “socialist federation of the British isles”?

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Jolly Red Giant - June 15, 2016

What now of SF imposing the cuts of Cameron’s Tories in the North?

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6. Seedot - June 15, 2016

If there was an Irexit vote, especially one marked by a campaign around the fiscal austerity treaty, I would probably vote yes. I have voted and campaigned against the last few European treaties for what relevance that has.

But if I was Irish living in Britain there is no way I would vote for Brexit. As Rodd says it will be a victory for the right, and not just the right but a fairly scary xenophobic version of it. If the vote passes I could see lengthy negotiations which falter on for years but instant derogation from some freedom of travel and residence responsibilities.

It is noticeable in England how public discourse around immigration is quite different to ours. I really think Britain will become a less pleasant place if this referendum passes and can see little reason why it will lead to a growth on the left.

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WorldbyStorm - June 15, 2016

Just on that last which I agree with you completely, I – and others on this site I know, who live or visit the UK on a regular basis – have found that in the last decade the discourse around immigration has become toxic in the UK. It’s taken a massive downward jump due to the referendum but it’s been getting increasingly worse.

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sonofstan - June 16, 2016

Toxic, and not with no objective basis. I’m not one for national self congratuation, at least off the football field, but I genuinely think that Ireland has dealt with large-scale immigration over the past decade and half relatively well – and the long standing English pride in their ability to integrate the previous ‘waves’ of immigration from the Indian sub-continent and the Carribean tends to ignore how long that process took, and some appalling stops along the way, and the coldness and unconcealed contempt you hear towards recent arrivals is dismaying.

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Seedot - June 17, 2016

+1 on the changes and difference with Ireland.

I lived in the UK as a child in the 70s and have worked there on and off and the change in recent years is noticeable. I currently work with a UK charity – senior management are doing a roadshow on preparing for the future, visiting all of the regions. We had to explain that along with other differences – dealing with the impact of immigration is not to the forefront in Ireland. This is a liberal health sector charity with nothing really to do with migration – but it accepts immigration as a significant issue which is a ‘risk’ to the organisation to be managed.

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7. roddy - June 15, 2016

Speaking of elites, I see that c—- Geldof engaged in a slanging match with that other c—- Farage on the Thames today.What bright spark let Geldof anyway near the remain campaign?

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WorldbyStorm - June 15, 2016

Don’t get me started on Geldof! Can’t stand him.

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Joe - June 15, 2016

Tell me why….

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WorldbyStorm - June 15, 2016

Heheh.

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oconnorlysaght - June 17, 2016

Fair play to Sir Robert. Anyone shouting down Farago can’t be all bad.
But what was Kate Hoey thinking of sailing with the latter? Did she have a spoon long enough?
One more point. To take up one of JRG’s; I get the distinct impression that the leaders of the Labour Exit campaigns are old Blairites, whatever about Blair himself.

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Gewerkschaftler - June 16, 2016

I come back to my point about the ineptitude of the Remain campaign.

I’m sure they’ve all got focus groups up to the back teeth. Why the hell didn’t they use one to test whether the celeb/authority figure who wanted to come out in favour or Remain was

a) Widely seen as not believable
b) Widely hated
c) A subject of widespread derision / contempt

by some representative focus group.

Then ask the said persons to just give Mondays a miss and keep their traps shut.

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8. Jolly Red Giant - June 15, 2016

Jeremy Corbyn and the EU – and this is just a small sample –

In 1975 Corbyn voted to leave the EEC

In 1983 Corbyn supported the LP manifesto that stated ‘British withdrawal from the Community is the right policy for Britain’

Corbyn voted against all EU Treaties since.

Last year Corbyn stated in relation to Greece “There is no future for a Europe that turns its smaller nations into colonies of debt peonage.”

During the leadership campaign Corbyn attended a hustings organised by the GMB and stated “I would advocate a No vote if we are going to get an imposition of free market policies across Europe” – now you could argue that the current drive of the EU elites is not towards the imposition of ‘free market policies across Europe’, I would contend that not only does this already exist but that TTIP will drive neo-liberalism directly to the heart of everything the EU stands for (and it should be noted that Corbyn has also stated he is opposed to TTIP).

Since the beginning of the referendum campaign hundreds of quotes and articles from Corbyn critical of the EU have been removed from his website – the oldest article now dates from June 2015 – and the removal of articles is defended on the basis that the website reflects his views since becoming leader.

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WorldbyStorm - June 15, 2016

I don’t think that’s as conclusive as you think, not least because T Blair stood in 1983 on precisely the same platform. And was elected no less! I think a reasonable appraisal of Corbyn’s position is that he’s deeply eurocritical but that he has stopped short of calling outright for an exit. Even the leadership debate statement is hedged in caveats – ‘if’ being the most clear one. And being critical of the EU is still not being clearly in favour of an exit. He could have thousands on his site and still not be in favour of an exit. I’m deeply critical of the EU, but I don’t recommend an exit. It’s genuinely not that difficult.

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Jolly Red Giant - June 16, 2016

He has shifted dramatically to the right in his position on the EU in the last few months – any other interpretation of his position is utter nonsense.

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WorldbyStorm - June 16, 2016

Even were I to agree with that characterisation of Remain being ‘right’ wing, which I don’t because I think it’s hugely more complex than that, that still represents a significant shift from your original argument which was that Corbyn championed exit from the off and across all intervening years.

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Ed - June 17, 2016

The argument changes along the way but the tone of utter certainty remains the same … seriously JRG, would you ever get it a rest with this ‘utter nonsense’ stuff? You’ve made a questionable assertion that you simply weren’t able to back up with evidence (“There is no future for a Europe that turns its smaller nations into colonies of debt peonage”—that could just as well have been said by Varoufakis, for example, and he’s campaigning for Britain to stay). Your have your opinion on this; fine, no problem with that. But a little less stridency would go a long way here.

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9. irishelectionliterature - June 15, 2016

Were I in Britain, Brexit would boil down to one question…. what is worse , The British Establishment given free reign or the existing combination of The European and British Establishment?
I’d hold my nose and vote to Remain.

Liked by 1 person

sonofstan - June 16, 2016

being in Britain and having a vote, that’s exactly my position. on the other hand while, as Gendjinn says below, a leave vote may be the beginning of a spiral towards the f-word, a remain vote is not necessarily going to still those forces forever.

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10. Jolly Red Giant - June 16, 2016

Now specifically in relation to Brexit and the referendum

To start with – where did I or anyone else in the SP state – as roddy has claimed – that a vote for Brexit could be construed as a ‘victory for the left’?

Now I would contend that the content of the debate on here at the moment is missing the underlying developments that are currently underway on a European wide basis.
The starting point for these developments was the election of SYRIZA in Greece and the subsequent confrontation between the Greek working class and the EU elites culminating in the Oxi vote last July – and the subsequent capitulation of the SYRIZA leadership to the diktats of the EU. The reaction of the EU to the crisis in Greece demonstrated the true nature of the EU to working class people all over Europe and proved a real and valuable nature of the objectives of the EU elites during the current crisis. The opposition to austerity in Greece and dovetailed with new anti-austerity movements right across Europe, some left-wing like Podemos in Spain and others populist like 5Star in Italy – all of them demonstrating a growing opposition to the policies of the EU elites. The development of these has been truncated, disjointed and often side-tracked (the shift to ‘independents’ in Ireland is a manifestation of this) and demonstrates that the working class is still going through a process of redeveloping it political outlook and rediscovering class consciousness and class solidarity. The working class is still in the early stages of this development following the ideological defeats of the 1980s and 1990s.

The manifestation of this anti-austerity mood in Britain was the election of Corbyn as leader of the LP. Corbyn was elected because he was recognised as being opposed to the rule of the elites (in Britain and in Europe) and articulated an anti-austerity message during the leadership campaign. Hundreds of thousands of people joined the LP specifically to vote for Corbyn. Unfortunately, Corbyn has become a hostage of the Blairites who dominate the PLP – something that was always likely unless Corbyn turned away from the LP internally and moved to build an anti-austerity movement that opposed the Blairites and worked with all those who had joined the LP because of Corbyn and those outside the LP who were also campaigning against austerity. The Blairites in the LP are constantly operating and looking for opportunities to undermine Corbyn and prepare the way for his removal as leader – and this referendum could actually provide the pretext for this to happen.

It is worth noting that Corbyn has shifted to the right on the EU – and on many other issues – precisely at a time when anti-austerity movements in Europe are moving in an anti-EU direction. The new Podemos/United Left platform for the upcoming Spanish elections has shifted to a position of campaigning for withdrawal from the EU. The IU adopted the following position at a recent general assembly of members “EU is un-reformable and incompatible with the sovereignty of peoples or with any policy of social transformation” and this has now become the position of the joint platform. But IU have gone further and called for the building of ‘an international alliance of workers’ and Left struggles for an alternative’. Similarly in Portugal – The Left Bloc has shifted from a position in 2010 of voting in favour of the troika bailout to the following – “The project to redefine democratically the European institutions is today not a credible one… This EU will always be an anti-people project… the EU is a war machine against the people and social rights.” Within the Left Bloc a Left Opposition document has called for “ the immediate formation of a Left Bloc commission to examine the practicalities and consequences of leaving the Euro.”

What has happened is that the left forces in Portugal and Spain have learned the lessons of the EU’s treatment of Greece and shifted dramatically to an anti-EU position as a result. Moreover, both Podemos/IU and the Left Bloc are seeing increased support as a result. A similar situation is being manifest by the growing support for the populist anti-austerity approach of 5Star in Italy.

In France there is a huge movement underway by the working class – initially manifest in the Nuit Debout assemblies and now moving into a massive working class movement against the El Khomri labour law. More than one million workers participated in a demonstration in Paris yesterday and millions more in other cities around France. There are currently over 800 active strikes taking place in France against the French government’s plans. As the campaign progresses it is beginning to adopt a more anti-EU outlook as the EU elites repeatedly come out in support of El Khomri.

Further general strikes have been taking place in Greece in recent days as the SYRIZA government again has to bend over and impose further austerity to get EU bailout money. There has been a significant shift to the left in Die Linke at its annual conference at the end of May with the party adopting a more combative stance in relation to the EU and on 24 May tens of thousands of workers demonstrated in Brussels – a general strike has been called by one of the trade union federations FGBT for 24 June and a nationwide general strike is being planned for 7 October against the EU inspired “Peeters Law” which is attempting to extend the working week from 38 hours to up to 45 hours and ‘reform’ welfare. A rash of spontaneous strikes have broken out in Belgium since 24 May, most importantly by railway workers.

All of this is happening in a backdrop of the Brexit referendum. At a time when the working class and the anti-austerity movements in many EU states are moving into opposition to the EU – Corbyn has shifted in the opposite direction under pressure from the Blairites. It demonstrates the mistaken strategy of Corbyn and those around him to placate the Blairites and is undermining the anti-austerity base of support that drove Corbyn to the Labour leadership. Working class people are attempting to assist Corbyn but his compromising with the Blairites is leading to disaster. An example of this was the significant swing to Labour in Bristol which led to Labour winning the position of Mayor – won by a Blairite who promptly appointed a ‘rainbow cabinet’ to run the city that included Tories and then imposed a budget that included austerity cuts of £100million.

The Socialist Party in England is campaigning for a Leave vote on the basis of opposition to the pro-austerity, pro-neo-liberal Europe of the bosses – the unelected cabal who impose the interests of the elites on the shoulders of working class people – and are campaigning for the building of a Europe-wide anti-austerity movement to defeat the policies of the elites. In my opinion they are correct to do this – it is necessary to place a clear left-wing and class position on the agenda for this referendum – and it is being done not on the basis of looking inward in a British context, but outward in an international context of working class solidarity and struggle.

Corbyn had an opportunity to dictate the nature of the Brexit debate – he could have stuck to his previous position of opposing the EU elites and the established pro-austerity structures of the EU, linking up with Podemos/IU, the Left Bloc and the growing movements in France and Belgium, the renewed movement in Greece etc and campaigned for Brexit on the basis of a European wide anti-austerity campaign linking the anti-austerity movements around Europe. Instead he capitulated to the Blairites and is now providing cover for Cameron who has gone into hiding in the campaign and Crobyn’s decision has allowed the little Englanders of UKIP and the anti-EU wing of the Tories to dominate the debate.

The Brexit campaign in Britain has caused a fissure in British society and has sent shockwaves through the EU establishment. It has torn the Tory party to pieces – to such a degree that it will have difficulty maintaining any coherent party after the referendum. But Brexit could also do serious damage to the EU as a vehicle of the European elites to impose austerity and neo-liberalism. It will be the biggest setback to the ‘European project’ since the foundation of the EEC in the 1950s. In part it is a manifestation of the limits of capitalism and the reverting of the outlook of a section of European capitalism back to the nation states.

A Leave vote will undermine the pro-EU position of the Blairites and the pro-EU Tories – it will strengthen the Eurosceptic wing of the British establishment. But it will also open up significant cracks in the attempts to impose austerity and a race to the bottom in Britain. Several trade unions have come out in favour of Brexit – most significantly the RMT and the CWU – furthermore a whole raft of trade unions are now planning strike action against council cuts, including cuts being imposed by Labour councils. The Left – including the left trade unions – have an important responsibility in the coming period – irrespective of whether the referendum goes ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’. There is a developing political vacuum in British society as the Tories tear themselves apart, Cameron is a dead man walking – as many working class people, especially young people, are voting ‘Leave’ in a two fingers to Tory austerity (despite the media’s sole focus on immigration) and there are possibilities for the development of a more extensive anti-austerity movement in Britain (which has already begun to develop). The reality is that Corbyn and those around him, had an opportunity to lead this movement – but their capitulation to the Blairites could well result in the removal of Corbyn or, worse, his complete emasculation within the PLP and the Corbyn ‘project’ being by-passed. This is very unfortunate – because if Corbyn had moved to try and put a left-wing, class position for Leave, then the anti-austerity movement could have become the focal point of the campaign, developed in a much more rapid fashion and linked up with similar growing movements in other EU countries.
Brexit will also have a profound effect on the EU – indeed if Remain win the campaign could well (and probably will) lead to the undermining of the policies of EU elites – making it more difficult for them to impose their ‘race to the bottom’ in the teeth of opposition from sections of the European working class. In particular the struggle against El Khomri in France could massively strengthen the anti-austerity movements around Europe.

Last point – in relation to the North – it is worth noting the attitude of SF and its adoption of a ‘Remain’ position with the pro-EU Tories and the Blairites. This is not a surprise. It demonstrates two things – 1. The continued shift to a pro-establishment position by SF (and the hollowness of its anti-austerity rhetoric) and 2. The nationalist outlook of the party irrespective of what the consequences are for the working class. SF in the North, despite the claims by roddy, are imposing massive Tory austerity. This was demonstrated as late as last week when SF Health Minister, Michelle O’Neill, who committed to continuing to siphon off NHS funds into the private health care sector – while crying that she would “never abandon my principles”. SF’s support, as demonstrated by roddy, is based on a narrow nationalist outlook that Brexit would see the re-introduction of border controls between North and South which would make the implementation of SF’s ‘strategy’ more difficult. The reality is that there is no difference between the pro-austerity Toryism of Cameron and the pro-austerity Toryism of Johnson – both are intent on imposing austerity and attacking workers rights and SF will go along with either as long as they can maintain their feet under the Executive table in the North.

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gendjinn - June 16, 2016

In the current climate the UK leaving the EU will start a spiral tinto fascism, far worse than Cameron’s Tories. It will become a mercenary client state of the US with warhawk Clinton and whatever GOP atrocity follows her.

The EU is shit. But they own our assets and our debt, leaving does nothing to solve those problems.

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CMK - June 16, 2016

gendjin, the EU is a good bit down ‘a spiral into fascism’. The Brexit debate is tangential to that process. The far Right in Poland, Hungary and Austria will continue along their way whether or not Britain leaves the EU.

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gendjinn - June 16, 2016

It’s like the Democrats and Republicans – they are both heading towards the same destination, but the former are traveling a lower rate of velocity. Hopefully the time you buy is enough to turn the tanker of state around.

Almost always the lesser of two evils is a categorical imperative in the way that heightening the contradictions almost never is.

The pendulum of Reagan & Thatcher has swung to it’s zenith, will it fly free or start swinging back the other direction?

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ejh - June 16, 2016

<iThe new Podemos/United Left platform for the upcoming Spanish elections has shifted to a position of campaigning for withdrawal from the EU.

Where are you getting this?

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Richard - June 16, 2016

Podemos-IU are not campaigning for withdrawal from the EU.

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fergal - June 16, 2016

Podemos and UI are not campaigning to leave the EU, are they? Neither is the Left Bloc in Portugal.
JRG-a lot of your analysis ends with ‘and this could lead to the creation of a new mass left movement/ party
8 years of austerity here hasn’t lead to this
Over 30 years of neo-liberalism in europe…has actually lead to mass right parties in france, uk, holland
Why will it be different if the most anti- worker country in the EU 15 leaves?

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - June 16, 2016

+1 id had similar thoughts but nowhere near as succinct or worked through about JRGs comment and particularly about the analysis leading to a conclusion that is unsupported by the objective realities of the situation .unfortunately in his comment theres too much ‘if’ and ‘when’ and contingent musings on potential but unlikely futures.

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Gewerkschaftler - June 16, 2016

I think other commentators have covered the inconsistencies of this Left Brexit position.

I’d just like to add that doing politics on a field of battle chosen by the nationalist right seems a priori to be heading for a right-wing nationalist disaster.

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11. roddy - June 16, 2016

JRG, can go on one of his usual long winded rants but when all is said and done ,Brexit will come about due to anti immigrant racism.Anyone on the ground in Britain will tell you that and that is why CREDIBLE socialists like Corbyn want nothing to do with it.

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12. Michael Carley - June 16, 2016

Labour MP shot and stabbed. Reports attacker shouted “Britain First”.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/jun/16/labour-mp-jo-cox-shot-in-west-yorkshire

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WorldbyStorm - June 16, 2016

Words fail me.

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