I agree with the front page and the vast majority of the editorial "Stop Brexit" (Solidarity 451). However, I disagree that revolutionary socialists should advocate a second referendum.
Unlike the situation with the first referendum, I don’t think we should necessarily oppose others who call for a referendum or oppose a referendum if it is called, but we ill serve our politics by championing the demand. As the editorial recognises, referenda are “a poor form of democracy”. In a second referendum our politics: for a workers’ Europe, more democracy within the EU and a levelling up of benefits and workers’ rights across it, will not appear on the ballot paper.
Most likely they will not be foremost in the campaign. The campaign in any second referendum will be implicitly between the existing EU and the Brexit deal negotiated. To be explicit, a second referendum would be “a poor form of democracy” which won’t give a platform for our politics. Why would we push for that?
A second referendum is also unlikely, as things are at the moment, to put the issue to bed. Firstly, because some Brexiteers will claim that the deal was not the Brexit they wanted and a more pro-Brexit government could have got a better deal. Secondly, the opinion poll leads against Brexit are small and often within the 2 to 3% margin of error in such polls. (Antony Wells’ www.ukpollingreport.co.uk has reported on this consistently and suggests there is little movement in public opinion on the issue, as yet.)
It is likely that without moving the political terrain the best scenario is a small majority against the Brexit deal offered and a whole new period where the issue of Brexit dominates politics in a negative way. Our job is to arm the labour movement to shift that political terrain.
It will be hard to win over members of our class who are pro-Brexit without linking the rejection of the deal with a social programme focusing on housing, jobs, education and health care. The Labour Party can be won to these politics and building on its 2017 manifesto could win an election with a radical anti-Brexit position. That it seems to me is the most likely way of stopping Brexit.
A relatively small group of revolutionary socialists will not tip the balance between whether there is a second referendum or not. What we can and should do is campaign for the labour movement and the Labour Party to adopt a positive programme towards Europe around our politics for a workers’ Europe. We can win substantial sections of the labour movement to these politics and if we do that we will make the terrain for a possible second referendum much more favourable and arm and educate our movement for the future more effectively, regardless of whether that future is within the EU or not.
Finally, we should bear in mind that whilst we are in favour of Britain being in the EU, it is not our end goal, or even our key strategic aim. We should not allow the shock of Brexit to make us become the most vehement supporters of the EU; we should keep our critical facilities and our politics clear. We want membership of the EU because it facilitates unity of the European working class and aids the fight for a Socialist United States of Europe.
Cuba: CP militants defied “line”
Thank you for your review of my book A Hidden History of the Cuban Revolution: How the Working Class Shaped the Guerrillas’ Victory (Solidarity 450) . I trust that you will allow me to clear up a couple of misunderstandings.
Firstly, when I say that the Cuban Communist Party (PSP) was “probably the only consistently honest force in Cuban politics during the 1940s”, I am using the term “honest” in the sense that they did not steal public funds or personally profit from their political activities. This was exceptional in an atmosphere where the Autentico party dominated Cuban politics, and presidents Ramon Grau San Martín (1944-48) and Carlos Prío Socarrás (1948-52) embedded gangsterism and corruption in Cuban political and social life.
In 1950, then ex-president Grau was accused of embezzling $174 million, but the matter never came to court because, in the early hours of 4 July 1950, a group of gunmen arrived at the court and took away all the court papers and evidence in the case. If I may be permitted a brief advertisement, this is dealt with in my other book, Killing Communists in Havana.
I do not deny that the Cuban Communist Party was Stalinist. Indeed, I approached the research for this book with considerable personal prejudice against Stalinism. However, I found a wide divergence between the sectarian “party line” and the actions of individual communist militants.
To take one example, Juan Taquechel, the leader of the Santiago dockers and a member of the central committee of the PSP, was specifically forbidden by the party leadership from involvement in a proposed armed uprising in Santiago organised by the July 26th Movement in November 1956. He defied that instruction and organised a dock strike in solidarity with the armed rebels.
As for my view that the January 1959 general strike was important in ensuring the rebel victory, there is considerable evidence that the US Ambassador was conspiring with some army officers who had been dismissed by Batista, who had been imprisoned and who were widely seen as honourable men. The army was indeed disintegrating, but was still dangerous and, at the very least, could have been rallied to prolong the civil war long enough to justify US intervention.
The general strike, the most complete in Cuban history, made sure that this did not happen. I am of the view that strikes are never spontaneous, but must be organised. I set out to unearth that organisation. My main focus for the book was to examine how workers react and organise under a brutal dictatorship. The level of clandestine workers’ organisation in the face of government death squads, as well as the incredible personal courage and organising ability of the militants themselves, impressed me enormously, but at no point do I claim that the Cuban Revolution was socialist or a workers’ revolution.
The future direction of Cuban society was settled in the period following the rebel victory and I have, so far, done no real research later than 1959. When I have done so, I suspect that we shall disagree, but let us cross that bridge when we come to it.
Oppose Brexit even short of socialism
I'm entirely with David Pendletone (Solidarity 452) that we should seek to win the labour movement and the Labour Party to a program for a workers' Europe.
But what if we fail to win a majority for that before March 2019?
We should assume no "inevitability of gradualness". But even if we, around Solidarity, increase our forces 20-fold in the next year - 20 times more activists, 20 times more readers, 20 times more influence - we may not win Labour conference 2018 to that program.
And, even if we do, a workers' Europe is not a program that can realised by action in one country alone. A revolutionary socialist stand by the Labour Party would surely spark great upheavals in labour movements across Europe, but we cannot guarantee that we will have revolutionary socialist majorities in the big countries' labour movements, and they will have won government, by March 2019.
If we don't, even a Labour Party entirely won to the politics of this newspaper will have to offer an immediate response when the Tories try to ram through their Brexit package.
What do we do when the Tories try to force through a nationalist, rights-removing, anti-migrant, economically-regressive deal in early 2019?
We should try to stop them. We should demand a referendum, even if the Labour Party doesn't, and even if Labour's official line on Brexit is as rubbish as it is now.
Not to do so would be like workers faced with a wage cut saying: we want our union to commit to socialist revolution. If we can't win that in time, or if we do win it in time but other unions are not yet sufficiently revolutionised to enable a workers' government, then we should not busy ourselves with crappy alternatives like low wages or even lower wages, but just grin and bear it.
Yes, a referendum is a poor form of democracy. Yes, pretty much all referendums are a choice between the status quo and some description of change. Yes, of course we might lose that 2019 referendum, or face a nasty backlash after we'd won it narrowly.
But a poor form of democracy is better than none. A referendum, as the only way to exorcise the June plebiscite, is better than giving the Tories free passage.
The status quo - however nasty the politics of many pro-EU politicians, like France's president Macron - is better, as a baseline from which to fight, than a re-raising of barriers between Britain and the rest of Europe which will be very difficult to reverse in any medium term.
David, if I understand him right, would not be opposed to a Labour Party which had been won to a workers' Europe program demanding a referendum on a Tory deal.
But, as socialists, we should not limit ourselves by what the top leaders of the Labour Party may or may not be pushed into in this or that timespan. We fight for our ideas in the Labour Party. We also say what we think independently, and promote it as energetically we can, in the workplaces, in the unions, and on the streets, as well as in the Labour Party.