Anti-Brexit left pledges to continue organising

Submitted by martin on 15 December, 2020 - 10:56 Author: Ben Tausz

Above: from Der Spiegel. "I'm leaving you... it hurts...and it's your fault!"

Amid the uncertainty of the still-dragging negotiations, around 150 supporters attended the AGM of the left-wing anti-Brexit campaign Another Europe Is Possible on 12 December.

John McDonnell MP made two key contributions: demolishing the absurd yet popular myth that Labour could or should have won in 2019 by backing Brexit; and insisting that (contrary to Starmer’s indications) Labour should not take responsibility for a Brexit deal that will damage workers’ living standards, and so should vote against it.

It’s still unclear whether the government will make a deal for hard Brexit before 31 December, or whether we will crash out with no deal (which only means that a deal will be cobbled together later, after even more suffering and from a worse position).

Either way, the anti-Brexit left needs to organise and mobilise: to defend against the attacks that are already underway; to intervene in struggles that will arise in the fallout such as workplace closures and job losses; to argue that the costs of COVID and Brexit should be extracted from capital not workers; and to raise the banner of internationalist, independent working-class politics as our answer to these crises.

The conference approved a strategy document committing to many near-future priorities including defending progressive aspects of EU membership such as workers’ rights and free movement; challenging new rounds of austerity; fending off government attacks on civil liberties and marginalised groups; fighting for democratic reforms; and building solidarity for struggles abroad. Recognising the Tories’ parliamentary majority, the strategy emphasised the need not to wait for the 2024 election, but to intervene now with extra-parliamentary action.

Workers’ Liberty activists proposed some additions that were voted through by large majorities: to campaign for democratic public ownership including of the banking and financial industries; to obstruct the government’s attacks on migrants by orienting to organising with civil service trade unionists and to anti-raids, anti-deportation direct action; and to coordinate AEIP members to advance internationalist politics within our trade unions’ democratic structures, in the same way AEIP already does within Labour.

A fourth AWL proposal, against militarism, cross-EU armed forces and NATO membership, saw more disagreement. Other speakers argued for supporting peacekeeping operations, and multilateral alliances of democratic states against authoritarian states. We countered that the left should not endorse European capitalist powers to police the globe, but the proposal was narrowly referred back to the National Committee.

A host of proposed amendments from Radical Independence Campaign activists raised issues around self-determination and breaking up the UK. Support for the right to national self-determination (which we backed) won a plurality but not the two-thirds necessary to put it in AEIP’s constitution. Their next proposal was that, in the event of an SNP majority, AEIP should throw itself into a campaign to secure a Scottish independence referendum.

We argued that a national debate about independence was the wrong answer to challenges that we instead need to tackle on the terrains of class, anti-racism, internationalism and so on, and defeated the proposal. In response, the proposer pulled all his other amendments and declared a walk out (joined by not more than a handful). It is unfortunate that the nature of the amendments meant that multiple questions were tangled together and a clearer debate was not possible.

These episodes illustrate some of the political tensions and limitations within AEIP. In the broad milieu of the internationalist left, we need to keep advancing class struggle politics – including, crucially, political independence from ruling class political organisations, refusal to rely on their institutions, and recognition that nationalism can play no progressive role in a nation that is not oppressed.

Among the panel speakers, an important illustration of the potential of international workers’ solidarity was made by Liza Merliak, international secretary of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union. She recounted how striking potash miners at the Belaruskali company were defended from victimisation by workers in Norway organised at Yara – Belaruskali’s biggest European customer.

Alongside John McDonnell, the opening and closing panels included Labour MP Clive Lewis, former Green leader Natalie Bennett, Razem (Polish left) parliamentary candidate Dorota Kawęcka, Todd Chretien of Democratic Socialists of America, IWGB union General Secretary Henry Chango Lopez, and Mary Kaldor and Alena Ivanova on behalf of AEIP.

• CORRECTION (added 9.1.): Picken has since clarified that he didn’t “walk out” – we misinterpreted this after he pulled his amendments and appeared to say that supporters in Scotland should perhaps consider whether they can continue to work as part of AEIP.


Submitted by Mike Picken (not verified) on Thu, 17/12/2020 - 15:03

It's a lie to say that I "declared a walkout" after proposing the defeated motion on campaigning in support for the STUC position of support for a second referendum in Scotland, if a majority of the Scottish parliament elected in May 2021 called for it. 

In fact I stayed to listen to the debate until after the disputed AWL amendment on NATO was referred and participated in that vote.  I then went to another meeting, that I had pre-warned the chair I would have to leave for.

What I did say in withdrawing the other amendments on the issue of Scotland, and this was repeated by a second speaker who had been a trade union delegate at the STUC, was that any campaign that didn't start from the standpoint of support for the STUC and Unison Scotland position on a second indyref would have zero credibility in Scotland. 

In standing against the democratically agreed position of the Scottish trade union movement including the overwhelmingly supported position in my own union, Unison Scotland, and siding instead with the Starmer leadership of the Labour Party, the AWL have put themselves on the wrong side of this issue.  It is also unfortunate that they have dragged an attempt to build a united front behind their own sectarian shiboleths on national issues.  Hopefully others will have learned about the dangers of sectarian isolation in the labour movement  from this daliance with the AWL.

Submitted by Ben T on Sat, 09/01/2021 - 15:24

In reply to by Mike Picken (not verified)

Ok, we were mistaken to believe that Picken had walked out – happy to correct that.

Unfortunately Picken’s representation of our position is also inaccurate. We did not oppose the position of the STUC – that if the Scottish Parliament elections return a majority of MSPs in favour of a referendum, then one should be held. Both AWL activists who spoke on the amendment stated that we agree with that, on the principle of national self-determination. In this we oppose Starmer’s position, contrary to Picken’s accusation. In fact we would go further and say that the ability to call an independence referendum should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament without requiring “permission” from Westminster.

What we argued against is the implication that a referendum would be desirable, and the proposal that AEIP should devote its capacity to actively campaigning for a referendum. As explained in the article above, we believe that focusing public debate in Scotland onto the national question is, at best, a diversion from the real challenges of class, democracy, anti-racism and internationalism. It is on those terrains that AEIP, and the left more broadly, need to fight – not sowing illusions in the creation of what would be another capitalist state in Scotland.

Picken also accuses the AWL of damaging united front efforts by pushing our own “sectarian shibboleths”. But I would remind him that we are not the ones insisting that AEIP cannot credibly go forward without adopting our own position regarding a referendum.

I'd also remind him that his proposals were rejected by a majority in the AEIP conference, within which AWL supporters were a small minority. And indeed, others in AEIP are much further from Picken’s position than we are – at the same conference, leading figures like Mary Kaldor raised doubts about the principle of national self-determination. 

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