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Editorial of the Socialist, issue 934
Article 50 bill heading to parliament
Establishment papers over Brexit chasms
Corbyn's Labour must fight for a socialist, internationalist Brexit
Six months on from the referendum and Brexit remains a nightmare for the capitalist establishment in Britain, from which they can find no escape. Exit from the EU is not in the interests of British capitalists, and the majority of them remain desperate to find a way to remain, or as close to as they can get.
However, that is extremely difficult to achieve. Despite the pro-capitalist and nationalist character of the official Brexit campaigns - and the absence of a mass socialist, internationalist one - the working class vote for Brexit on 23 June was still, at base, an elemental revolt against the long years of wage restraint, job losses, public sector cuts and growing inequality. Any premature attempt by the capitalist class to 'step back' Brexit could lead to a new and bigger revolt against establishment betrayal.
So we have instead seen a drip, drip campaign of trying to blame austerity and economic difficulties on those who voted for Brexit. Not surprisingly, given that austerity and economic crisis have been the norm for almost a decade, so far this has cut no ice with the majority.
The latest YouGov poll puts support for leaving the EU single market at 57% and for leaving the European Customs Union at 56%. While that could change in the future it nonetheless indicates deep disillusionment with the capitalist establishment and an enormous accumulation of anger at endless austerity.
At the same time the super-rich 1% has no political party that it can rely on to act in its interests. While the capitalist media is inevitably focusing all its attention on the divisions in the Labour Party, desperate to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, the Tories are just as split.
They may have papered over the cracks for long enough for Theresa May to force her two paragraph bill through parliament, thereby triggering Article 50, but in the long negotiations ahead, the chasm between the two wings of the Tory Party is bound to open wider than ever before, with even a split being posed. As a result, the pro-remain capitalists are forced to rely on an alliance of politicians from all parties - including former Tory chancellor George Osborne, and leading Labour right-wingers such as Hilary Benn, and even a disinterred Tony Blair!
This is a factor lying behind the latest moves against Jeremy Corbyn. The representatives of the capitalist class, which dominate the parliamentary Labour Party and the Labour Party machine, remain desperate to undermine and defeat Jeremy Corbyn and the anti-austerity surge that has twice seen him elected leader. Compromise and retreat will never stop them, only a determined campaign to transform Labour into an anti-austerity party, deselecting the Blairites in the process, will lead to a successful outcome.
The latest attacks on Jeremy Corbyn have come over his attempt to impose a three line whip on Labour MPs to vote in favour of the government's bill triggering Article 50. Corbyn is arguing for various amendments to the bill - including guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens resident in Britain, safeguarding existing workers' rights, and pledging that parliament will have the opportunity to discuss and debate the results of the negotiations with the EU. So far two anti-Corbyn MPs have resigned from the shadow cabinet over the issue.
Jeremy Corbyn is correctly anxious that Labour is not seen to block the triggering of Article 50 after a majority voted for Brexit. He is put at a serious disadvantage, however, by his previous concessions to the Labour right.
Despite his historic opposition to the EU as a neoliberal capitalist project, one of his first retreats was in agreeing to campaign, albeit reluctantly, in favour of remain. This meant that the left, internationalist case for exit was not heard by the majority of the population, and Corbyn lost an important opportunity to raise the confidence and consciousness of the working class and to demonstrate he represented a break with the pro-capitalist leaders of New Labour. This has had consequences.
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 therefore cannot easily understand why he is insisting MPs vote for Article 50. And of course they rightly question why he has been able to stand firmer on this than on the bombing of Syria or the condemnation of Tony Blair.
Without doubt, one factor in Corbyn's stance on Article 50 is that a section of the Labour right are going along with him. Anxious not to undermine their own careers by losing votes in Brexit-majority constituencies, they are prepared to vote for May's bill.
However, this does not preclude them - if they sense a chance to finish Corbyn off over this issue - changing their stance. This very temporary 'common approach' is papering over an even bigger chasm than the one that exists in the Tory Party. The right-wing Labour MPs are acting in the interests of a different class - the capitalist class!
The right are prepared to support curbs on migration, not least - as many of them proved in office - refusing asylum to refugees fleeing war and disaster. Let's remember that they include the same MPs who were demanding Cameron made more anti-migrant statements in order to try and swing the referendum campaign for remain!
At the same time, however, they mainly support the EU single market which is 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.
It is about freedom for big business to exploit us rather than real freedom however, as the refugees risking their lives trying to enter Fortress Europe can testify. The tools which the single market provides to allow big business to use 'free movement' to increase exploitation include measures like the Posted Workers' Directive, which allows employers to hire workers in one country, on that country's terms and conditions, and then send them to work in another country where unions have negotiated better pay and conditions.
It is vital that Corbyn does not give in to the pressure that will undoubtedly come from the Labour right to support a deal which is in the interests of big business rather than the working class majority. Instead he needs to campaign clearly for a workers' Brexit which is socialist and internationalist around a programme to defend and improve the lives of the majority. This must include a £10 an hour minimum wage, mass council house building, and democratic nationalisation of key industries.
It should be combined with trenchantly campaigning against racism and defending the rights of migrants and refugees, including the rights of all EU citizens currently in Britain who wish to remain being able to do so with full rights. It should also be combined, as Len McCluskey, general secretary of general union Unite has raised, with a demand that employers should have to be covered by a proper trade union agreement or by sectoral collective bargaining before they can recruit labour abroad.
This is arguing for an increase in democratic workers' control over hiring, and a decrease in the control of big business. Such a campaign would bring Jeremy Corbyn into sharp conflict with the pro-capitalist wing of the Labour Party, but would win widespread support among working class people.
An opportunity exists to create a mass workers' party - with a left and internationalist programme - which would transform the political situation. It will not be achieved, however, on the basis of further compromise with the Blairites, but only by adopting a clear stance for the transformation of the Labour Party.
In The Socialist 1 February 2017:
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