Brexit: nightmare for bosses? Or for us?

Submitted by Matthew on 15 February, 2017 - 1:57 Author: Liam Conway

Despite evidence of rising racism, as well as the likelihood of severe cuts to working class standards of living, the two main left groups in the UK continue to peddle much the same nonsense about Brexit as they did during the referendum.

The Socialist Party editorial of 1 February focuses on the Brexit “nightmare for the capitalist establishment in Britain”. It is as if the pending dismantling of rights and current rise in xenophobia did not exist. The Socialist Party interpret a YouGov poll showing 57% support for leaving the EU single market and 56% support for leaving the European Customs Union as evidence of “deep disillusionment with the capitalist establishment and an enormous accumulation of anger at endless austerity”. This is a dangerous fantasy that ignores the serious work needed in working class communities such as Kirkby in Ashfield, where I teach, to counter the view that migrants are the problem rather than capitalism and the Tories.

They repeat the old line about Corbyn failing to support Lexit meaning “the internationalist case for exit was not heard by the majority of the population”. They add, quite insultingly, that many of “those who have joined Labour to back Corbyn have only heard the right-wing, nationalist arguments against the EU put by Ukip, Boris Johnson and their ilk.” They condemn Blairite MPs for supporting “the EU single market… an agreement between the different capitalist classes of Europe to create the largest possible market in order to maximise their ability to exploit the working classes of Europe.

The single market is based on the ‘four freedoms’ of the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour.” But the “four freedoms” so-called are not the decisive means by which capital exploits labour. In a socialist society we would certainly be in favour of at least three of those. These freedoms are only beneficial to capitalism in proportion to their ability to gain political hegemony via the likes of anti-union laws, wage cuts, attacks on conditions, undermining public services and privatisation.

The Socialist Party’s negative view of capitalism’s desire to “create the largest possible market based on the freedom of movement of goods, services, capital and labour” is in stark contrast to Marx’s positive view of this same process. Marx says that the capitalist class “keeps more and more doing away with the scattered state of the population, of the means of production, and of property. It has agglomerated population, centralised the means of production, and has concentrated property in a few hands. The necessary consequence of this was political centralisation. Independent, or but loosely connected provinces, with separate interests, laws, governments, and systems of taxation, became lumped together into one nation, with one government, one code of laws, one national class-interest, one frontier, and one customs-tariff.”.

Can it be the case that not a single member of their editorial board has read the Communist Manifesto? Talk of the EU being “about freedom for big business to exploit us rather than real freedom” completely ignores the potential of the organised working class across the EU to defend itself from such attacks, just as it does in a single state, except with the benefit of organising with other workers across borders, challenging class rule and racism at one and the same time. The Socialist Party editorial finishes in a flourish, demanding that Corbyn “campaign clearly for a workers’ Brexit which is socialist and internationalist, around a programme to defend and improve the lives of the majority”. But what if these demands are not conceded?

In the Socialist Review section of the SWP’s website an article by Joseph Choonara rightly defends freedom of movement and criticises Theresa May for claiming that free movement undermines wages. They appear to have moved on somewhat from Charlie Kimber’s analysis last year in which he identified the vote to leave as being essentially a rejection of the establishment by the working class. Instead of recognising and explaining their mistake on the likely racist outcome of a vote to leave the EU (otherwise why set up Stand Up to Racism?), Socialist Worker want to “set out a different vision of Brexit favouring working class interests.” This translates as opposition to the “neoliberal single market” as opposed to the neoliberal “take back control” capitalism of the Tory right. But, says Choonara, “our priorities are to break with austerity, secure protections for workers and the environment, and reverse the privatisations that go hand in hand with corporate globalisation.” Where is this on offer in any form of Brexit?

To avoid difficult questions on how a worker-friendly Brexit can be achieved they revert to stressing the centrality of immediate campaigns. And the most urgent immediate issue, is the “fight over racism”. No shit Jack! Isn’t that the fight over racism generated by the Brexit vote and the rise of the populist right of which it is an example? It is good that the Stand Up to Racism demo will stress the “defence of the three million EU migrants living here” and that we should argue “for the retention of the right to free movement, even in its current limited form.” But hasn’t the referendum result made this more difficult to do?