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.