Rex Dunn concludes his article: “... the problem is that working class consciousness is at an all-time low and it does not have a socialist party to lead it.”
This is clearly evident in Fenland, where the Tories have just had 12 out of their 39 candidates for the seats on Fenland district council elected unopposed. North East Cambridgeshire - more commonly known as Fenland - is a typical Tory shire, and is now famous for being the seat of Stephen Barclay MP, Theresa May’s loyal Brexit secretary.
In the elections to Fenland council on May 2 the Labour Party could only manage to find five candidates to stand, with the Lib Dems and the Greens also standing five candidates each. There are also 14 independents, including seven ex-Tories. The fact that they could only stand five candidates shows that Fenland Labour Party is a shell despite the Corbyn surge of 2017, even though it has on paper over 450 members, very few of whom are active.
In Fenland, there are more than 2,500 people on the social housing waiting lists. At the same time, there are more than 14,000 people living in privately rented accommodation. In Wisbech, the biggest of the four towns making up Fenland, there are more than 50 people sleeping rough or living in tents. Many more, including my nephew, are ‘sofa-surfing.’
Yet Fenland Labour Party have not used as propaganda Theresa May’s announcement at last October’s Tory Party conference that the government will now allow local councils to borrow to build new council houses and flats. Ironically, Wisbech is one of the richest branches in East Anglia due to the rent it gets from its former Labour club premises, which are rented out to an Indian restaurant.
Whilst I am very well known in Fenland for the hundreds of letters I have written to the Fenland Citizen and the Wisbech Standard/Cambs Times over the last 25 years putting forward a socialist perspective, I am an isolated, lone voice, swimming against the stream.
The ‘many’ in Fenland - just like the ‘left-behind’ in the north of England, as mentioned in Rex Dunn’s article - see immigration as the root of the problem (instead of neoliberalism and austerity). The arrival of 8,000 migrant workers from eastern Europe since 2004 in a town previously populated by 23,000 people is one of the reasons why 72% of Wisbechians voted ‘leave’ in the 2016 EU referendum.
Rex Dunn is therefore correct when he says that what is necessary is a campaign for a United Socialist States of Europe which would make it clear to the masses that capitalism is the problem, not immigration.
As Tony Benn famously said, “There are too many socialist parties, and not enough socialists.”
I’m relieved Tony Greenstein doesn’t actually put me down as a political ally of the Democratic Unionist Party. As a former secretary of Sinn Féin’s Tyneside-Irish branch, with organiser’s credentials from the Provisional leadership, it would be a feat of political ambidexterity. This was, of course, in the days when Sinn Féin was still socialist and republican and was against what became the European Union. Its current positions - on the 26 counties and the EU, and the six occupied counties and the EU - are confusing and contradictory. The prospect of a border poll and what position they will adopt on Ireland per se is currently being fought out within that party.
The position of the Irish Republican Socialist Party is quite clear: they oppose Irish membership of the EU and British occupation of Ireland, as do I. Most so called ‘dissident groups’ occupy the same position, so Tony’s assertion that “Irish republicans are hostile to Brexit” is inaccurate. They are hostile to British occupation and any British border in any part of Ireland, as am I. That’s not quite the same thing as being hostile to Brexit, as it implies republican support for the EU, which is the current majority view of Sinn Féin, though not others.
The fact I favour Britain out of the EU state in no way means I am in favour of the UK state and that’s the problem with Tony’s pop-up image of who ‘leave’ voters are. He falls into the same room of mirrors as Jon Snow - so full of the London and south-east demographic that when he sees lots of people from outside London he notices how white they are. Actually, there was very little difference in the racial characteristics of the ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ marches. In Tony’s case, he and others like him have wedded the EU plan into some sort of equalitarian, progressive, socialist reformism, which he is totally at a loss to see is quite distinct from independent working class action - which also opposes membership of the EU. ‘Leave is racist’ - simple as. One can’t, in Tony’s view, be a working class militant, internationalist and communist unless you support and defend the edifice of the EU state, warts and carbuncles and all.
Well, we shall continue to agree to differ. I see the EU as not progressive at all and I surely do not need to list the examples in Greece, in Spain, and the whole corporate freefall labour market plan, the imposition of austerity against elected governments and elected officials? Of course, the free movement of European labour is precisely to open up the labour markets to end restrictions on supply, to break down national and regional traditional disciplines and practices, to create in many cases a foot-loose and rootless army of casual and temporary, and agency workers with no loyalty to any particular trade or industry or region. That’s what happened. Yes, of course, our response has to be to organise them - I know: I worked for years as an organiser for the Transport and General Workers Union, carrying up to 45 different-language sign-up forms in my bag, deploying translators, visiting houses and flats and temporary accommodations, trying to establish links and common identities. But don’t pretend it isn’t anything but bloody difficult and that’s what it is designed to be. Foreign workers will still come here in large numbers, whatever happens with the EU, and nobody is complaining about that. Migration is not the main motive for ‘leave’ votes - at least not among any of the workers or communities I have represented.
I’m amazed that Tony not only buys into, but spreads, the stuff about the EU being a peace movement - a process to stop wars in Europe! It’s usually claimed the atom bomb did that, but in either case it’s not true, of course - unless the prospect of one European defence force with its own atomic bombs and nukes means we can be ready to go to war with someone else and not kill each other.
Once again neither me nor working class industrial workers in the Midlands, the Valleys and the north have any nostalgia for when Britain ruled the waves - we never had any imperial nostalgia, so you’re trying to wedge us into a shoe made for a different class again. You just can’t get away from your cardboard cut-outs and straw men.
The problems of the working class are caused by capitalism, which is multi-racial, multinational, global and expressed in different ways in different states. The EU project is a reactionary project, insofar as it is even less democratic and less accountable to the masses than usual bourgeois parliamentary structures, which, as we have seen, are corrupt enough already. Voting to leave the EU does not mean a commitment to support the bloody UK - far from it - or give capitalism, as it is expressed here, some kind of easier ride. Indeed quite the opposite: capitalism, as expressed in Britain outside the EU, is far easier to get at and fight. If Corbyn had stuck to his commitment to honour the result and, as stated in the manifesto, leave the single market and the customs union, he would be riding the crest of an anti-Tory wave right now. Instead he and Labour are widely seen as a party of ‘remain’ and - mark my words - that will cost them dearly; and not because any former Labour voters have suddenly become Tories.
The Durham Miners Gala this year, by the way, will see some really odd political forces on the platform. Corbyn will be in pride of place, but no Dennis Skinner as his left conscience. Instead we have sodding Baroness Chakrabarti, CBE, PC and Sadiq Khan - ee gads, get my pint ready early! I am also told the platform will for the first time ever fly a union flag! All of this is clearly a response to hostile press on the nature of the Labour Party and its leadership, and the fact that a number of us last year physically stopped a bunch of union jack-waving, besuited members of Britain First making their way down into the field. They complained that we insulted thousands of British armed-forces veterans and it was a disgrace the national flag was never flown there.
The red Follonsby miners’ lodge banner will be leaving with our band at 8.30 am from Durham railway station - with no union jacks or national flags of any sort. If you want to join us on July 13, red flags and black flags are welcome!
War or peace
Recently I wrote to Labour MP Helen Hayes, urging her to support a ratification referendum on Theresa May’s withdrawal deal (or even a May-Labour version). This is a democratic right, which enables both ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ supporters to reject (or support) the Tory deal.
I opposed including a ‘remain’ question, because it “would be dangerously divisive to try at this time to reverse the 2016 vote and would be a gift to the Tories and the extreme right in many working class communities suffering from Tory austerity”. My only qualification is that Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain and should not be forced to leave the EU against their will. If they are, they should fight for a referendum on leaving the UK.
Helen Hayes replied: “I continue to hold the view that in any future referendum ‘remain’ must be an option on the ballot paper. I have consistently held this view.” Many Labour MPs, ‘Tiggers’, Greens and Liberal Democrats support this.
The Brexit crisis has polarised people. Many working class leavers now support a full, total Brexit. A referendum which offers working class ‘leave’ supporters a choice to vote for May’s deal or ‘remain’ will be seen as betrayal and cause outrage. Surely they will boycott it and take to the streets?
In England and Wales a ‘May deal or remain’ referendum plays into the hands of the Tory right and the neo-fascists. They will think Christmas has come early, whilst socialists will remember that liberals have always been the midwives of authoritarianism and fascism.
We are at a fork in the road on the referendum question. One sign says ‘Civil peace’ and the other says ‘Civil war’. The democratic demand for ratification is the road towards peace. A ‘remain’ ballot risks civil war.
Rex Dunn’s article (‘Politics in the round’, April 11) highlights the war path. He says: “Hatred and intolerance is on the rise. This is the ‘ugly face of Brexit’, as the pro-Brexit demonstration on March 29 clearly showed.” He continues: “if there is a general election - or another referendum - there could well be fighting in the streets. If that happens, of course, this would not be the first time that there would be civil violence in Britain.” Rex says: “Today if fighting does break out in the coming period, it will be between pro-‘remain’ and pro-Brexit supporters: a civil war without class struggle, because it crosses class lines.”
Boycotting referenda is not like boycotting civil war. All civil wars in capitalist society involve struggle between classes, which ‘cross class lines’. In his discussion of the national question, Lenin rejected any notions of pure class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, in which one side lines up “for capitalism” and the other “for socialism”. Revolution and civil war is a messy business.
Labour MP Helen Hayes has naively chosen the path of civil war, although there is as yet no majority in parliament to issue the call to arms. Liberals don’t care. They have a stick to beat ‘peacenik’ Corbyn, who seems reluctant to back a second ‘remain’ ballot. He should rule it out and not beat about the bush.
The Corbyn ‘peace plan’ without the democratic right to ratify echoes Stalinist bureaucratic politics that fears and avoids the democratic verdict of the working class. It would be disastrous if Labour makes a Brexit peace deal with the Tories. It is even more dangerous if working people are denied the right to ratify or reject it.
Labour Party Marxists have failed to fight for an independent, working class, democratic policy set against the reactionaries and liberals. They have been sitting on the fence between ratification and ‘remain’, between a policy of civil peace and civil war.
Rex says the fact that “working class consciousness at an all-time low” is responsible rather than the false consciousness of the likes of Labour Party Marxists.
The coverage of the Brexit farrago in the pages of the Weekly Worker is exemplary. The synopsis given by comrades Eddie Ford and Rex Dunn over recent weeks has been precise, concise and informative - terrific journalism. Would that the same could be said for the majority of the mainstream media ...
I do not understand how comrades from the Socialist Party, Socialist Workers Party and Communist Party of Britain can consider the UK departing the EU as a progression towards socialism. The driving motive behind the Bruges group, the European Research Group and Nigel Farage is completion of the Thatcher revolution - a low-wage economy with workers bereft of rights.
EU membership prevents the UK reaching the sunny uphills of capitalist exploitation. Jacob Rees-Mogg and his cohorts wish to free the rentiers, landlords, financiers and bosses from all constraints, enabling them to bleed the workers dry, while they rake in the cash.
Left leavers need to wake up and understand that Brexit is a totally rightwing project and that the right totally owns it.
Readers of last week’s print version may have noticed that the review published on pp10-11, ‘Three centuries of oppression’, did not identify the author. In fact the reviewer was comrade Chris Gray, and we would like to apologise for this oversight.
Chris has recently been in hospital for a couple of operations. We are sure that his friends and comrades will want to wish him a speedy recovery. He has certainly been an asset to the Weekly Worker over the years and we look forward to his return to full health.
Weekly Worker production team