Brexit Crisis: Socialism the Solution (Issue 26 Editorial)

Issue 26 of Revolution is out now. In this issue we have articles on the Brexit crisis, marxism and the environment, the youth strikes, QMU UCU strike, the EIS pay dispute and Venezuela. We publish here the editorial.

by Ross Walker, IMT Edinburgh


The sight of our ruling politicians trying to scramble their way through the Brexit crisis, elicits feelings of disgust and is causing increasing disillusionment in British parliamentary politics. This is a healthy disillusionment which reflects a growing realisation of the decrepit nature of the British establishment and the capitalist system it rests on. However, it does beg the question, what is the alternative? A debate continues within the left and the labour movement about whether to campaign for another EU referendum or a General Election and Corbyn Government. In Scotland we have a third option of a new independence referendum. However, none of these ideas have caused much excitement in Scotland recently. It is necessary to look at why this is and what alternative Marxists should put forwards

A People’s Vote?

This is the main solution offered by liberals including the SNP and Scottish Greens. It is based on the idea that in 2016, the electorate were duped into voting against their interests and now that the truth has been revealed they should hold another election. This election will yield a vote for remain and the Brexit crisis will be over. Some on the left have also campaigned for this on the basis that the EU provides some safeguards for human rights and employment law and that Brexit is divisive and xenophobic.

This campaign has several fundamental problems. To begin with, it ignores the real reasons why people didn’t vote to remain in 2016, particularly in the working class communities in England and Wales decimated by de-industrialisation. The idea of remaining within the EU because of the prosperity it brings, obviously did not connect with such communities and only proved how out of touch politicians are. The Leave campaign promised change. These promises were based mostly on lies and xenophobia but it boldly offered something and capitalised on people’s anger at the establishment. Recent polls have shown support for remaining within the EU at around 54%. This is similar to the 2016 pre-referendum figures indicating that the feelings that led to Brexit haven’t gone away. It is far from guaranteed that remain would win in the case of another referendum.

If remain did win, this would not simply be the end of the Brexit crisis. The problems that face working class communities would not go away. The Brexiteers, including the far right elements among them, would gain active support on the basis that they were robbed by the liberal establishment and the remainers would be able to offer nothing in retort other than more austerity. Capitalism is in deep crisis and another slump is on the horizon. The Euro is also on the eve of another big disaster, with the Italian economy ridden with debt and a Eurosceptic mood growing everywhere. Nothing can be solved by remaining within the EU.

Marxists of course support human rights and pro worker employment law. We also stand completely against the xenophobia associated with Brexit. However, the way to protect rights and fight against xenophobia is to build active trade unions in all workplaces, unionise all migrant workers, fight against immigration controls and fight for a socialist programme where issues such as housing shortage, unemployment and public service drain, which are wrongly blamed on migrants, are solved.

Scottish Independence?

The SNP in recent years have become ardent defenders of the European Union, particularly since 2016 when Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain whilst the rest of the UK voted to leave. Since then, the idea of Scottish independence has been very much tied to the prospect of an independent Scotland within the EU. With this comes the idea that Scotland can benefit from immigration and that we’re more “welcoming and tolerant” that the rest of the UK. SNP Constitutional Relations Secretary recently said:

“I am ready to make the case for Europe passionately and proudly in a second EU referendum and to contrast it with the Prime Minister’s deal, which will only leave this country and its people impoverished. I call on all parties in the chamber, each of which campaigned to remain in 2016, to hold to their principles: first, to support the plan that has been laid out by the First Minister, and then to join with her, me and this Government to make the positive case for EU membership for Scotland.”

The problem for the SNP is that by doing this, they’re offering support to the Blairite, Lib Dems and Tory politicians who ruled over de-industrialization, the 2008 crisis, a decade of austerity, chauvinistic immigration policies, attacks on trade unions, the Iraq War and many other reactionary policies. Or to put it another way, they’re offering support for the politicians who ruled over a situation which lead to millions of people being so alienated and angry that they voted against the status quo.

The strength of the 2014 YES campaign was that it inspired a mass movement based on fighting against austerity implementing, warmongering, British chauvinist, corrupt politicians in Westminster. However this is something the SNP leadership have been trying to distance themselves from. They want to be seen to be a sensible pair of hands for Scottish capitalism when independence comes.

Recently, ex SNP Commons Leader, Angus Robertson set up a centrist, pro market independence group called Progress (ironically the same name as the Blairite pressure group within Labour), clearly designed to win over “moderates” by being as moderate as possible. On top of this, the party have backed the EU position over Venezuela, siding with American imperialism and in recent months they’ve come into conflict with trade unionists over the Glasgow Equal Pay campaign, rail nationalisation and the EIS teacher pay deal.

To be sure this has not gone without opposition within the wider YES movement and even the SNP itself, whose rank and file are to the left of the SNP leaders. SNP members showed themselves to be against the pro capitalist Growth Commission for an independent Scotland at three national councils and may well cause more debate at the Spring conference. In time left-right divisions will open up within the party and the wider YES movement but for now the bourgeois leadership has dominated, quelling the mass movement. The Green Party recently raised left wing hopes by refusing to vote for the SNP budget unless they gave concessions on council budgets but they caved in very early. Despite independence still remaining at around 45% in the polls, there is little desire to actively campaign for it amongst the working class in Scotland and the SNP’s pro establishment behaviour is a big part to blame for this.

A Corbyn Government?

Many workers and youth throughout England and Wales see the Corbyn government as a way out of this crisis. The huge influx of members into the party in recent years has transformed the party from a Blairite career machine to a mass movement. The 2018 conference showed a raft of left-wing motions and speeches. At Constituency Labour Party levels, left-wing members throughout England and Wales are taking over. The Parliamentary Labour Party still has many Blairites but they are facing more and more resistance from the rank-and-file, hence the welcome resignations of Frank Field and John Woodcock last year.

The one thing that unites most remainers and Brexiteers alike in parliament is the fear of a Corbyn government. When May’s Brexit deal suffered a huge defeat in parliament and Corbyn tabled a vote of no confidence, all the Tory and DUP MPs grouped together to defeat this motion. Some have come to the conclusion that because of this, there is unlikely to be another general election. However May’s government can only hold on so long and there’s even been noises within the Tory ranks of a general election in June in order to “strengthen their hand”. A general election would likely see a big boost for labour as people would see this as a golden chance to get rid of the Tories and get a decent human being into office.

In Scotland, very few people have confidence in the Labour party. Scottish Labour, despite having a new left wing leader, has barely changed and has not experienced the mass influx that it has in England and Wales. They are still tainted with Better Together. However this does not stop Marxists and other left wingers within the trade unions and YES movement reaching out to the Corbyn movement. Amongst the Corbyn movement there is a large support for policies that are important to workers in Scotland but aren’t currently Labour Party policy, including opposition to Trident and immigration controls. Many even sympathise with Scottish independence. For example, Tower Hamlets Momentum branch in East London recently passed a motion in favour of a new independence referendum. There is a big potential for cross border solidarity.

Socialism: The only way out!

Socialists in Scotland need to expose the bourgeois nature of the the leaders of the YES movement. Whilst we support independence we do so on a socialist and internationalist basis. The EU is not our ally. The workers of Europe are. We do not support US imperialism either. Instead we reach out to the workers of North and South America in their battle against it.

A Corbyn government would represent a great step forward for class struggle in these islands and left wingers within the YES movement must reach out to it first by demanding that the SNP support a General election and support such a government in power. If Corbyn’s Labour supported a new independence referendum, opposed Trident and opposed immigration controls they’d make it much harder for SNP liberals to attack them. Instead of taking a sectarian anti independence and anti SNP stance they reached out to the rank and file of the party and YES movement as a whole there could be a basis for strong cross border working class movement.

The Brexit debate represents a deep rift between two camps of the ruling class. With it constantly blasting out of every media outlet, working class politics can be difficult hear. However this is just a phase in crisis of British capitalism and ahead of us lie revolutionary opportunities we must prepare for. If you want to help us prepare for this, join the IMT today

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