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Labour manifesto: Within the current order

Win or lose the general election, the fight to transform Labour will continue, writes Peter Manson (first published in the Weekly Worker)

It is clear that Labour’s manifesto for the December 12 general election is considerably more radical than its 2017 programme, For the many, not the few. While that phrase appears in small letters on the front of the new version, the title this time, however, is rather more bland: It’s time for real change could in truth be used by just about any party.

While ‘capitalism’ is not mentioned at all and ‘socialism’ only once – in the claim that the national health service is an example of “socialism in action” (p31) – the notion of class at least makes an appearance, as opposed to being merely implied in the title of the 2017 manifesto. However, while Labour says it will “put class at the heart of Britain’s equality agenda” (p66), that obviously implies the “equality” of all classes within the current order.

Nevertheless, the claim that the party will be “shifting the balance of power back towards workers” through “the biggest extension of workers’ rights in history” (p60) is, of course, welcome (if not a little exaggerated), as is the declaration that “Strong trade unions are the best and most effective way to enforce rights at work” (p63). Labour pledges to “repeal anti-trade union legislation, including the Trade Union Act 2016” (p62) – note that the word ‘all’ is missing, although at least this statement implies that perhaps it is not only the 2016 act that will be repealed.

Another key word that also features is ‘imperialist’, but only in the context of the UK’s previous foreign adventures, which resulted from “outdated notions of charity or imperialist rule” (my emphasis, p103). Similarly the manifesto promises to “conduct an audit of the impact of Britain’s colonial legacy” (p96) – in other words, imperialism, like colonialism, is merely a regrettable feature of British history.

True, Labour will “end the ‘bomb first, talk later’ approach” to foreign policy (p95), but it is committed to “protect our security at home and abroad” (p8). And that means we must “maintain our commitment to Nato”, not to mention “the renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent” (p101). In fact, “Labour’s commitment to spend at least 2% of GDP on defence will guarantee that our armed forces are versatile and capable of fulfilling the full range of roles and obligations.” Well, at least under Labour we will ‘talk first and bomb later’, even if it means the obliteration of an entire population, thanks to nuclear weaponry.

Would you believe it? – the manifesto implies that Labour can be regarded as more reliable on ‘defence’ than the Conservatives, under whom “Trained army personnel have been cut from 102,000 to just over 74,000” (p100). Similarly Labour will “restore total prison officer numbers to 2010 levels” (p46). However, the commitment to the armed forces is totally in line with Labour’s vision for a ‘new’ global order, whereby it will “use Britain’s influence within the World Bank, IMF and WTO to transform the rules of the global economy, so they work for the many” (p101). It is difficult to imagine a more naive ‘socialist’ illusion than this commitment to a ‘fairer’ form of global capitalism.

Spending

There are several positive pro-worker commitments, such as the banning of zero-hour contracts, and the pledge that “Within a decade we will reduce average full-time weekly working hours to 32 across the economy, with no loss of pay” (p62) – although the promise to “rapidly introduce a Real Living Wage of at least £10 per hour for all workers aged 16 and over” (p59) falls far short of what is now needed.

Then we have the entirely supportable policies relating to state ownership of essential public services. Gas, electricity, water, the railways and Royal Mail are all to be renationalised, and Labour will also take over BT’s internet division, in order to provide free broadband to every household, in addition to “taking public ownership of bus networks” (p19). It is claimed that all this will help “make Britain’s public services the best and most extensive in the world” (p29).

When it comes to the NHS, Labour will be “taking back all PFI contracts over time” (p30) and in general it will “end and reverse privatisation” (p32). What is more, while it does not go into detail, it will “establish a generic drug company” (p35) – presumably as an integral part of the NHS, in order to ensure that healthcare is no longer the victim of the private drug companies’ blatant robbery through their monopolistic overcharging. Labour will also “abolish prescription charges” (p35).

Then there is education, with “free school meals for all primary school children” (p40) and the pledge to “abolish tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants” for further education (p41). In relation to housing, the party has committed to building at “an annual rate of at least 150,000 council and social homes, with 100,000 of these built by councils for social rent” (p78). Labour also claims it will “end rough sleeping within five years” (p80).

However, taxation of the rich and big business is not to be increased by a huge amount: “We will reverse some of the Tories’ cuts to corporation tax, while keeping rates lower than in 2010” (p29). Which means that much of the increased spending will have to be financed by borrowing.

This, of course, has opened the way for the usual charges of an irresponsible failure to balance the books. However, it is hardly unusual for bourgeois states to raise funds through borrowing. In fact, depending on the overall political and economic situation, it is considered perfectly normal to do so – the aim, particularly during a downturn, being to boost the market and thus increase production (and therefore income from taxation). It is ironic that, at the very time the usual charges of irresponsibility were being levelled against Labour, the newly appointed president of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, was calling on EU governments to raise their spending in order to stimulate the economy.

Democracy

In line with others, Labour is now committed to “reducing the voting age to 16” (p82) – good. But what about its attitude to the second chamber? It states: “We will act immediately to end the hereditary principle in the House of Lords, and work to abolish the House of Lords in favour of Labour’s preferred option of an elected Senate of the Nations and Regions” (p81).

Well, first of all, the abolition of the Lords is an absolutely fundamental requirement, so why the delay? What is this “work” that needs to be done before it can be entertained? And in the meantime the existing members – including those who are there as a result of the “hereditary principle” – will continue as before. All those who say they are democrats must oppose not just the current monstrosity, but any second chamber – whose purpose is to impose ‘checks and balances’ against the democracy of directly elected representatives.

However, while it is all very well to state your opposition to the “hereditary principle” in relation to the Lords, aren’t they overlooking something? What about the monarchy, which does not get a mention in the manifesto? This is the biggest affront to democracy of all. Every piece of legislation requires the monarch’s assent – and there is no doubt that they would actually exercise that power of veto in the event of a genuine threat to the ruling class being posed by the elected parliament.

And, of course, as we have pointed out on numerous occasions, it is the monarch who formally appoints the prime minister, and there is a distinct possibility that, if Labour were to be the largest party after December 12, the queen would summon someone other than Jeremy Corbyn to the palace to head ‘her’ government (no doubt with the acquiescence of sections of the Labour right). The principled position is clear: abolish the monarchy, abolish the second chamber!

Then there is Scotland. The manifesto states:

Scotland needs the transformative investment coming from a Labour government, not another referendum and not independence. A UK Labour government will focus on tackling the climate emergency, ending austerity and cuts, and getting Brexit sorted. That’s why in the early years of a UK Labour government we will not agree to a section 30 order request [for a second independence referendum] if it comes from the Scottish government (p85).

While communists are opposed to separatism in principle, and call for the greatest possible unity between different nations and peoples, we are adamant that such unity must be entirely voluntary. There must be self-determination and, if the democratically elected representatives vote for independence, that decision must be accepted, however much we may regret it. In other words, it should not be up to the “UK government” (quite apart from the fact that we are for the replacement of the United Kingdom by a federal republic, in which Scotland and Wales would have the right to secede) to decide this question.

European Union

Labour’s official position on Brexit is spelled out, making it entirely clear that the party is for Brino (Brexit in name only). After the UK leaves the EU following a deal negotiated by Corbyn, it would remain part of both the customs union and the single market – not to mention the fact that there would be “continued participation in EU agencies and funding programmes” (p90).

In other words, just about everything would continue as before – except that the UK would no longer take part in EU decision-making. Of course, it goes without saying that the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs, and of the active membership, would oppose withdrawal and campaign for ‘remain’ in the second referendum proposed by the party.

However, the manifesto states:

If in a referendum the British people decide to remain in the EU, this must not mean accepting the status quo. Labour will work with partners across Europe to make the case for radical reform of the EU – in particular to ensure that its collective strength is focused on tackling the climate emergency, tax evasion and ending austerity and inequality (pp91-92).

Thus the same illusion as in relation to capital’s global institutions is displayed. There is no notion of the need to fight for the transformation of the current EU into a workers’ Europe – once again it is a case of a more ‘progressive’ form of capitalism.

Then there is the problem of the leader’s position in the event of a second referendum, where we would be asked to choose between the Corbyn deal and ‘remain’. The Labour leader only – not the party – would stay “neutral” during that campaign – although, as he stated on the BBC’s November 26 The Andrew Neil interviews, he hoped that some “people would argue it’s a reasonable deal” that should be accepted.

While it is fine in some circumstances for a leader to stand aside from the choice between two acceptable alternatives, in this case, as many have pointed out, it would be problematic – the choice in practice would be between remaining within the EU with or without a vote: who in their right mind would vote for the latter?

The manifesto makes several positive points about the right of free movement – and not just in relation to the EU. It states: “Labour recognises the huge benefits of immigration to our country” (p91) and continues: “The movement of people around the world has enriched our society, our economy and our culture” (p70).

Therefore, “We will end indefinite detention, review the alternatives to the inhumane conditions of detention centres, and close Yarl’s Wood and Brook House” (p71). So it appears that ‘non-indefinite’ detention centres – with more ‘humane’ conditions – will remain open. In fact, Labour’s policy will be to “review our border controls to make them more effective” (p45). What was that about free movement?

Anti-Semitism

Rather strangely, in view of the ongoing smear campaign being waged against Labour for failing to ‘root out’ its ‘institutional anti-Semitism’, there is no mention of anti-Jewish prejudice in the manifesto. The substantial section on ‘Women and equalities’ makes clear the party’s opposition to all forms of racial and religious discrimination, but neither ‘anti-Semitism’ nor ‘Jews’ is specified – an absence that has not been pointed out by any mainstream media outlet, as far as I know.

On one level that omission is fair enough, but, in view of the absurd allegations levelled against the party under Corbyn’s leadership on precisely this question, surely it would have been worthwhile not only to mention anti-Semitism, but to make a clear statement condemning the totally false slurs and explaining what lies behind them. But, no, Labour’s position has been to say as little as possible on those slurs – apart from repeating ad nauseum its total opposition to all forms of prejudice and its absolute intolerance of such prejudice within the party.

Of course, the idea has been to keep quiet about it, in the hope it will go away, and, instead of tackling such controversial matters head on, concentrate on issues like workers’ rights and public ownership. But the hope that the whole thing would die a death if you ignore it was totally misplaced – the anti-Corbyn establishment is not going to drop something that has him continually on the back foot. And it was only a matter of time before Labour’s alleged ‘anti-Semitism’ would feature in the general election campaign.

And now we have the latest furore – sparked by the statement of chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis that Corbyn is “unfit for high office”, as he had allowed the “poison” of anti-Semitism to “take root in the Labour Party”. Just for good measure, Mirvis was supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.

On The Andrew Neil interviews Corbyn once more failed to condemn the malevolent campaign of slurs. All he would say was that he was “looking forward to having a conversation” with Mirvis, so he could clear up the misunderstanding, since only “a small number of members” have been accused of anti-Semitism. He politely disagreed that he had been guilty of “mendacious lies” about its extent in the party and, after all, he had now “toughened up the rules” to prevent it.

Not only is Corbyn’s failure to oppose the campaign misplaced: it could well cost him the election. Of course, as in 2017, he could still head a pro-Labour surge, but this is now looking increasingly unlikely.

Nevertheless, we must be clear: the place for all Marxists and socialists is within Labour, aiding the long-term struggle to defeat the pro-capitalist right and transform it into a genuine party of the entire working class.

Our Europe, their Europe

Marxists are by definition internationalists. Therefore we are opposed to nationalism in all its variants, whether it be the classic Little-England type or the ‘left’ version of socialism in one country (national socialism) – something normally associated with Stalinism.

How does this impact on the Brexit debate? For a very large part of liberal opinion, and the left which tails it – such as Another Europe is Possible -, the actually existing European Union has become an emblem of everything that is progressive – the cherished ideal of anti-racism harmony in marked contrast to the increasingly rancorous nationalism of the UK Independence Party, the European Research Group (headed by the weird retro-Victorian Jacob Rees-Mogg), the desperate Boris Johnson, etc. A social democratic refuge from the onslaught of neo-liberalism and the market.

Does that mean Marxists are enthusiastic about today’s EU or would consider voting ‘remain’ in any possible future referendum? The answer to both these questions is no. In reality, the bloc is committed heart and soul to market values, for all of the flummery about “human dignity”, “tolerance”, “fundamental rights”, and so on. The whole project marches according to the rhythm, requirements and restrictions imposed by capital. Indeed, the EU constitution is a paean of praise for the market and the virtues of competition.

Then remember how the European Commission – in cahoots with the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – imposed a regime of savage austerity upon Greece for daring to defy its diktats, driving millions into penury, homelessness and even suicide.

However, it does not follow that Marxists call for the UK to pull out of the EU because it is a “bosses’ club”, or because it is not “socialist” – silly and also a criminal desertion of internationalism. One might just as well suggest pulling the working class out of the “bosses’ club” of Britain. Or is the pound sterling more socialistic than the euro?

Capitalism and the capitalist state, as it historically presents itself in the here and now, is where the socialist project starts – in this case, the EU. The idea that the working class and the fight for socialism would be collectively strengthened if one or two of our national battalions aligned themselves with this or that faction of the bourgeoisie with a view to forcing a Britain, a France, a Spain or an Italy to withdraw from the EU displays a complete lack of seriousness. Disastrously, we would be weakening our forces.

Instead, Marxists argue for a positive programme. A Europe without unelected bureaucrats, technocrats, monarchies, and standing armies. Communists strive for working class unity within, but against, the existing EU – ultimately we want to overthrow it, just like the British state. Winning the battle for democracy in the EU and securing working class rule over this relatively small but strategically vital continent is the best service we can do for our comrades in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia – as opposed to building “Fortress Europe”.

In other words, we are for a republican United States of Europe. Armed with a continental-wide programme, the United Socialist States of Europe can be realised – the “bosses’ club” is replaced by a workers’ club. In turn, such an internationalist perspective directly points to the necessity of organising across the EU at the highest level – crucially a revolutionary Marxist party covering the entire European Union.

No to a second – or any – referendum

Referendums, by their very nature, are undemocratic. At first, this might sound paradoxical or counter-intuitive – you get to vote in an act of ‘direct democracy’, after all. But, whilst referendums have the great virtue of appearing to be the epitome of democracy, the reality is quite the opposite. They bypass representative institutions and serve, in general, to fool enough of the people enough of the time. Often complex issues are simplified, drained of nuance and reduced to a crude choice that cuts across class loyalties. Hence today, thanks to Brexit, one half of the working class is found in the ‘leave’ camp – the other half is with ‘remain’. That is hardly a situation to be celebrated.

There are very few situations where there is a simple binary choice in politics, and that can be illustrated by what followed the referendum. Yes, a relatively small majority voted ‘leave’, but on what terms – hard Brexit, soft Brexit, Brexit-in-name-only? If there had been a ‘remain’ victory, as most people had expected right to the wire, we would have been confronted by the same conundrum – ie, how to interpret the result.

Furthermore, what about the long-term validity of that result? For example, many of those who argue against a second referendum today claim that ‘the people have spoken’ and so their verdict must be regarded as final. But in fact the 2016 poll was itself the ‘second referendum’ on the subject. In 1975 Harold Wilson called one to decide whether Britain should remain in what was then called the ‘European Community’ (or ‘Common Market’), even though it had only joined two years earlier. There was a substantial 67% majority to stay in the EC. Clearly people can change their minds.

The problem is that referendums are totally inadequate compared to representative democracy. The latter is based on the election of well-tested working class representatives, who must be made accountable to those who elected them. Under such a system we should trust those representatives to take the necessary decisions – and ensure that they face the consequences if they embark on a path that is not in our interests. Referendums, on the contrary, tend to divide the working class, weaken its party spirit and produce the strangest of bedfellows. For example, in 2016 committed socialists were urging the same vote as the far right, while others were aligned with the liberal establishment. Now we find Nigel Farage on the same side as George Galloway.

In 1911 Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald called referendums “a clumsy and ineffective weapon, which the reaction can always use more effectively than democracy, because it, being the power to say ‘no’, is far more useful to the few than the many”. Yes, a couple of decades later he completely sold out by agreeing to lead a national government with the Tories, but in 1911 he was totally right.

The Labour Party should be opposed to referendums as a matter of principle.

Tories: Ready to fall – and then?

Because of acute divisions over Europe the Tories are extremely vulnerable. However, says David Sherrief, the last thing we need is a ‘normal’ Labour government to replace them

Theresa May’s government is deeply divided and looks set to blunderingly take Brexit negotiations to a disastrous ‘cliff edge’. Despite her Florence speech, little progress is being made in Brussels. No breakthrough over the divorce bill. No breakthrough over the Irish border. Then there is Boris Johnson and his 4,000-word Sunday Telegraph manifesto calling for a low-tax, low-regulation Britain finding a “glorious” future outside both the single market and the customs union.1)The Sunday Telegraph September 15 2017 A cat in the “nest of singing birds”.

True, the government comfortably got the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill through its second reading in the Commons. The final vote was 326-290. However, the war is far from over. Tory MPs – not least Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry – have tabled amendments aimed at shooting holes into May’s Brexit plans: eg, they want to include the EU’s charter of fundamental rights. There will also be challenges to the use of so-called Henry VIII powers and demands for a vote on final terms. This brings the distinct possibility of government defeats. Of course, that would not trigger a general election. For the moment at least, May is secure. Thanks to the £1 billion deal with the Democratic Unionist Party, she would win a vote of confidence. Nonetheless, the government is vulnerable and we should expect compromises, gruelling late-night sittings, MPs being brought in from sick beds and desperately fought by-elections.

Surely, though, the government’s main problem is that a hard Brexit runs counter to the interests of the dominant sections of big capital in Britain. For example, the recent Downing Street approach to large private companies and selected FT-100 firms, in the attempt to obtain endorsement for the government’s post-Brexit plans for a “global Britain”, was greeted with derision. Technology, aerospace, pharmaceutical, energy, manufacturing, banking and financial services firms have all warned that the drifting Brexit negotiations could lead them to transfer some operations from Britain. Toyota is already openly questioning the future of its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire.

Many capitalists fear that they will face tariffs and other damaging barriers after March 2019 … if there is no deal. Nor do they have any liking for the government’s leaked proposals to limit immigration post-Brexit. The markets confirm what the personifications of capital say. Since the June 2016 referendum the pound sterling has fallen by around 20%, compared with other major currencies. Moody’s has meanwhile downgraded Britain’s credit rating from a top AAA to Aa1, and now Aa2. Despite the requirement to pay what is in effect a 20% premium, outward investment has doubled in the last quarter. Figures such as these reveal the thinking of collective capital. The bet is that Britain is heading for difficult times. In other words, Brexit is bad for profit-making.

Of course, at Phillip Hammond’s prompting, there has been an acceptance that Britain will, if it can, negotiate a two-year transition period. This has been cautiously welcomed by many of the CEOs and boardrooms of blue-chip companies. But the lack of detail causes uncertainty, frustration, even anguish.

A recent survey of 1,000 UK businesses reported that more than two-thirds of them needed to “know the details of any transition arrangement after Brexit by June 2018 – just nine months from now – in order to plan properly”. If investment and recruitment decisions that have been put “on hold” are to be “unblocked”, 40% of the businesses say the government must set out what the transition will involve, when it comes to vital areas, such as the movement of goods, capital and people, as well as legal arrangements.2)Financial Times September 12 2017

Far from May and her cabinet providing Britain with ‘strong and stable’ leadership, big capital worries that party interests are being put first. Hence, addressing widespread concerns amongst voters about ‘unrestricted’ immigration is being prioritised over guaranteeing access to the single market. Private meetings and frantic lobbying have had little effect on David Davies and his department for exiting the EU. The government says it has its mandate and appears intent on brushing aside the interests of big capital. All in all, therefore, “big business is in a difficult position”, reckons John Colley of the Warwick Business School.3)https://uk. nance.yahoo.com/news/businesss- government-lobbying-brexit-isnt-working- heres-143415309.html

Of course, the capitalist class, though it is the ruling class, is particularly ill-adapted to exercising direct control over day-to-day government operations. The main business of members of the capitalist class is business. The exploitation of labour and dog-eats-dog competition is hellishly time-consuming. On average CEOs work “10-11 hours per day” plus weekends.4)Time October 16 2015

So the capitalist class has to find itself a political party which “can take, and stick to, an overall and farsighted view of the interests and needs of the system as a whole”.5)H Draper Karl Marx’s theory of revolution Vol 1, New York NY 1977, p324 Since the 1920s that party has been the Conservatives, but no longer, it seems. Today the Tories are clearly acting against the long-term needs and interests of the system: ie, the capitalist class as a whole. Maybe this reflects the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of modern capitalism – foreign investment in Britain stood at around £950 billion in 20156) House of Commons Library Debate pack Number CDP 2017/0159, September 8 2017 – and therefore a hands-off approach to national political parties, their national rivalries and their national machinations.

True, a few big businesses, such as JCB, Westfield and Bloomberg Europe, have donated considerable sums to the Tories.7)The Guardian April 1 2015 But most of the money going to Tory HQ nowadays comes from very wealthy – often very quirky – individuals (many of them after access to government, dinners with ministers, knighthoods, membership of the House of Lords, etc).

Over the years the number of companies making donations has shrunk.8)B Jones (ed) Political issues in Britain today Manchester 1999, p313 Yet, with the bulk of Tory finances coming from the rich and the super-rich, with hundreds of Tory parliamentarians holding directorships, with Tory MPs coming from business and going back to business, with the visceral hostility to trade unions, it is clear that the standard Marxist description of the Conservative Party as the party of big business, albeit it with various qualifications, remains correct. Nevertheless, the tension that exists between the interests of big capital and the direction being taken by May’s party and government is unmistakable.

The origins of this divergence lies squarely in electoral calculation. Having outmanoeuvred her rivals and successfully taken over from the hapless David Cameron – following his June 2016 referendum humiliation – Theresa May thought that she could inflict a massive general election defeat on the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party … if she seized hold of the political programme of the UK Independence Party. Of course, her gamble did not pay off. May’s presidential campaign proved to be a disaster, while Jeremy Corbyn’s For the many, not the few campaign was, by contrast, a brilliant success.

Now, irreversibly committed to a hard Brexit, the Tories resemble the Loony Tunes cartoon character, Wile E Coyote. Fixated on chasing the Road Runner, his nemesis, Wile E Coyote, suddenly finds himself in mid-air over a precipitous canyon. His legs still move and so does he. For a brief moment it appears nothing is wrong, that the momentum can be maintained. But, inevitably, Wile E Coyote realises that he is suspended in mid-air … then comes the long plunge to the ground.

Since the 48.11%-51.89% referendum result, Britain has not suffered the economic disaster George Osborne, Mark Carney, Peter Mandelson and co predicted. No yanking recession. No flight of capital. This has allowed little UK Europhobes right and left – from the Daily Mail to the Morning Star – to claim vindication. But a Brexit referendum result hardly amounts to Brexit. True, statisticians report that the British economy has been growing slower than the euro zone. It is, though, a case of anaemic growth compared with anaemic growth. Projected long-term, that heralds Britain’s continued relative decline.

Nonetheless, a negotiated hard Brexit deal – let alone a hard Brexit non-deal – could quite conceivably result in absolute decline. Such a prospect deeply worries big capital. Unless control over the Conservative Party can be reasserted, the choices it faces are all unpalatable: tariffs on goods going to the EU, reduced supplies of cheap labour, running down investment in Britain, decamping abroad, sponsorship of a national government, etc.

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer has succeeded in getting the shadow cabinet to come out in favour of negotiating a “new single market relationship” with the EU. For the sake of appearances, he pays lip service to the 2016 referendum result. There is no wish to alienate the minority of Labour voters who backed ‘leave’. Nonetheless, the message on Europe is clear: it is Labour which is articulating the “interests and needs” of big capital.

Indeed, just before the Brighton conference opened, Jeremy Corbyn declared that Labour “is the natural party of business”.9)Morning Star September 23-24 2017 He has, in fact, said similar things before. Eg, 18 months ago Corbyn told the British Chambers of Commerce that “we are natural allies”. Such statements ought to be taken seriously. Basically what Corbyn is promising is that the “next Labour government” will be a normal Labour government. A government fully in the spirit of Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, etc. That ought to be good news for the Labour right – it shows that Corbyn can be tamed.

Whether or not big business believes Corbyn is another matter. After all, there is his long established record of opposing imperialist wars, supporting strikes and advocating wide-ranging nationalisation. And, of course, as the capitalist class well knows, behind Corbyn there lies a mass membership which is expressing itself, is eager for ideas and is already tentatively pursuing its own agenda: a mass membership which, if disappointed, if thwarted, if it asserts itself, could well abandon Corbyn and embrace the “dangers of Marxism” (Chris Leslie).

We do not consider big business “natural allies”. No, on the contrary, we strive to express and represent the “interests and needs” of the global working class. Hence, when it comes to Europe, instead of getting embroiled in the argument about what is and what is not in the ‘national interest’ – eg, staying in the single market versus leaving the single market – what Labour ought to adopt is a clear, ambitious and farsighted working class perspective.

Marxists have no illusions in the European Union. It is a bosses’ club, it is by treaty committed to neoliberalism and it is by law anti-working class (note, the European Court of Justice and its Viking, Laval and Rüffert judgements). But nor should we have any illusions in a so-called Lexit, as advocated by Labour MPs Dennis Skinner and Kelvin Hopkins.

On the contrary the EU should be seen as a site of struggle. Our task is to unite the working class in the EU in order to end the rule of capital and establish socialism on a continental scale. That would be the biggest contribution we can make to the global struggle for human liberation.

References

1 The Sunday Telegraph September 15 2017
2 Financial Times September 12 2017
3 https://uk. nance.yahoo.com/news/businesss- government-lobbying-brexit-isnt-working- heres-143415309.html
4 Time October 16 2015
5 H Draper Karl Marx’s theory of revolution Vol 1, New York NY 1977, p324
6 House of Commons Library Debate pack Number CDP 2017/0159, September 8 2017
7 The Guardian April 1 2015
8 B Jones (ed) Political issues in Britain today Manchester 1999, p313
9 Morning Star September 23-24 2017

EU: There will be no reciprocation

David Sherrief says that the Tories seem determined to put the interests of party above those of capital. However, instead of presenting itself as a defender of British business, Labour needs a socialist vision when it comes to Europe

Theresa May’s government is deeply divided and looks set to take Brexit negotiations to a disastrous ‘cliff edge’. Despite article 50 and the tick-tocking of the Brexit countdown, there is little progress being made in Brussels. No agreement over the divorce bill. No agreement over Northern Ireland. Then there is Boris Johnson and his Sunday Telegraph article calling for a low-tax, low-regulation Britain finding a “glorious” future outside both the single market and the customs union. A cat in the nest of singing birds.

True, the government comfortably got the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill through its second reading in the Commons. The final vote was 326-290. However, the war is far from over. Tory MPs – not least Nicky Morgan, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry – have tabled amendments aimed at shooting holes into May’s Brexit plans: eg, they want to include the EU’s charter of fundamental rights. There will also be challenges to the use of so-called Henry VIII powers and demands for a vote on the final terms. This brings the distinct possibility of a government defeat. Of course, that would not trigger a general election. For the moment at least, May is secure. She would win a vote of confidence. Nonetheless, the government is vulnerable and we should expect compromises, gruelling late-night sittings, MPs being brought in from sick beds and desperately fought by-elections.

But, surely, the government’s main problem is that a hard Brexit runs counter to the interests of the dominant sectors of big capital in Britain. For example, the recent Downing Street approach to large private companies and selected FT-100 firms, in the attempt to obtain endorsement for the government’s post-Brexit plans for a “global Britain”, was greeted with derision. Technology, aerospace, pharmaceutical, energy, manufacturing, banking and financial services firms have all warned that the drifting Brexit negotiations in Brussels could lead them to transfer some operations from Britain. Toyota is already openly questioning the future of its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire.

Many capitalists fear that they will face tariffs and other damaging barriers after March 2019 … if there is no deal. Nor do they have any liking for the government’s leaked proposals to limit immigration post-Brexit. The markets confirm what the personifications of capital say. Since the June 2016 referendum the pound sterling has fallen by around 20%, compared with other major currencies. Reports that outward investment has doubled in the last quarter shows the thinking of collective capital. Despite having to pay what is in effect a 20% premium, the bet is that Britain is heading for difficult times. In other words, Brexit is bad for making a profit.

Of course, at Phillip Hammond’s prompting, there has been an acceptance that Britain will need a negotiated transition period. This has been cautiously welcomed by many of the CEOs and boardrooms of blue-chip companies. But the lack of detail causes uncertainty, frustration, even anguish.

A recent survey of 1,000 UK businesses reported that more than two-thirds of them needed to “know the details of any transition arrangement after Brexit by June 2018 – just nine months from now – in order to plan properly”. If investment and recruitment decisions that have been put “on hold” are to be “unblocked”, 40% of the businesses say the government must set out what the transition will involve, when it comes to vital areas, such as the movement of goods, capital and people, as well as legal arrangements.1)Financial Times September 12 2017

Far from May and her cabinet providing Britain with ‘strong and stable’ leadership, big capital worries that party interests are being put first. Hence addressing widespread concerns amongst voters about ‘unrestricted’ immigration is being prioritised over guaranteeing access to the single market. Private meetings and frantic lobbying have had little effect on David Davies and his department for exiting the EU. The government says it has its mandate and appears intent on brushing aside the interests of big capital. All in all, therefore “big business is in a difficult position”, says John Colley of the Warwick Business School.2)https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/businesss-government-lobbying-brexit-isnt-working-heres-143415309.html

Maybe the loss of direct and indirect influence over the Conservative Party, the inability to exercise control, reflects the increasingly cosmopolitan nature of modern capitalism. For instance, foreign investment in Britain stood at around £950 billion in 2015.3)House of Commons Library Debate pack Number CDP 2017/0159, September 8 2017 A few big businesses, such as JCB, Westfield and Bloomberg Europe, have donated considerable sums to the Tories.4)The Guardian April 1 2015 But most of the money going to Tory HQ nowadays comes from very wealthy – often very quirky – individuals (many of them after access to government, dinners with ministers, knighthoods, membership of the House of Lords, etc).5)www.cityam.com/264987/party-donors-biggest-names-bank-rolling-conservative Over the years the number of companies making donations has declined.6)B Jones (ed) Political issues in Britain today Manchester 1999, p313 Yet, with the bulk of Tory finances coming from the rich and the super-rich, with hundreds of Tory parliamentarians holding directorships, with Tory MPs coming from business and going back to business, with the visceral hostility to trade unions, it is clear that the standard Marxist description of the Conservative Party as the party of big business remains correct, albeit it with qualifications.

Nevertheless, the tension that exists between the interests of big capital and the direction being taken by May’s party and government is unmistakable.

The origins of this divergence lies squarely in electoral calculation. Having outmanoeuvred her rivals and taken over from the hapless David Cameron – following his June 2016 referendum humiliation – Theresa May clearly thought that she could inflict a massive general election defeat on the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party … if she seized hold of the political programme of the UK Independence Party. Of course, her gamble did not pay off. May’s presidential campaign proved to be a disaster, while Jeremy Corbyn’s For the many, not the few campaign was, by contrast, a brilliant success.

Now, irreversibly committed to a hard Brexit, the Tories resemble the Loony Tunes cartoon character, Wile E Coyote. Fixated on chasing the Road Runner, his nemesis, Wile E Coyote, suddenly finds himself in mid-air over a precipitous canyon. His legs still move and so does he. For a brief moment it appears nothing is wrong, that the momentum can be maintained. But, inevitably, Wile E Coyote realises that he is suspended in mid-air … then comes the long plunge to the ground.

Since the 48.11%-51.89% referendum result, Britain has not suffered the economic disaster George Osborne, Mark Carney, Peter Mandelson and co predicted. No yanking recession. No flight of capital. This has allowed little UK Europhobes right and left – from the Daily Mail to the Morning Star – to claim vindication. But a Brexit referendum result hardly amounts to Brexit. True, statisticians report that the British economy has been growing slower than the euro zone. It is, though, a case of anaemic growth compared with anaemic growth. Projected long-term, that heralds Britain’s continued relative decline.

Nonetheless, a negotiated hard Brexit deal – let alone a hard Brexit non-deal – could quite possibly result in absolute decline. Such a prospect deeply worries big capital. Unless control over the Conservative Party can be reasserted, the choices it faces are all unpalatable: tariffs on goods going to the EU, reduced supplies of cheap labour, running down investment in Britain, decamping abroad, sponsorship of a national government, etc.

Meanwhile, Keir Starmer has succeeded in getting the shadow cabinet to come out in favour of staying in the single market. Hence the striking paradox. On Europe Labour is articulating the interests of big capital. Not that big capital will reciprocate and back the Labour Party. It is, after all, led by Jeremy Corbyn: pro-trade union, pacifistic and a friend of all manner of unacceptable leftists.

For the sake of appearances, Kier Starmer pays lip service to the 2016 referendum result. There is no wish to alienate the minority of Labour voters who backed ‘leave’. More through luck than judgement, ambiguity served the party well during the general election campaign. The contradiction between Corbyn’s historical hostility towards the EU – now represented in the Commons by the Dennis Skinner-Kelvin Hopkins rump – and the mass of Labour’s pro-‘remain’ members and voters resulted in a fudge.

However, instead of getting embroiled in the argument about what is and what is not in the ‘national interest’ – eg, staying in the single market versus leaving the single market – Labour needs a class perspective. Marxists have no illusions in the European Union. It is a bosses’ club, it is by treaty committed to neoliberalism and it is by law anti-working class (note the European Court of Justice and its Viking, Laval and Rüffert judgements). But nor should we have any illusions in a so-called Lexit perspective.

On the contrary the EU should be seen as a site of struggle. Our task is to unite the working class in the EU in order to end the rule of capital and establish socialism on a continental scale. That would be the biggest contribution we can make to the global struggle for human liberation l

References

1 Financial Times September 12 2017
2 https://uk.finance.yahoo.com/news/businesss-government-lobbying-brexit-isnt-working-heres-143415309.html
3 House of Commons Library Debate pack Number CDP 2017/0159, September 8 2017
4 The Guardian April 1 2015
5 www.cityam.com/264987/party-donors-biggest-names-bank-rolling-conservative
6 B Jones (ed) Political issues in Britain today Manchester 1999, p313