Morning Star Editor Ben Chacko’s political report to the Communist Party Executive Committee this weekend:
Whatever the poll predictions, it’s clear that Britain’s decision to leave the EU has come as a massive and disorienting shock to the political Establishment.
Although the nature of the vote differed from region to region and from nation to nation, this was a working-class revolt as Owen Jones pointed out yesterday morning.
The Communist Party, along with a number of allies on the left and in the labour movement – most especially in the RMT, Aslef and BFAWU unions – campaigned strongly for a left exit from the EU based on an understanding of its anti-democratic and pro-monopoly capitalist nature, and the limitations membership would place on any future socialist government of these islands.
However, it would be an exaggeration to say that Thursday’s vote was a conscious adoption of these policies by 17 million voters. Internet Remainers can be a snooty bunch, and yesterday’s viral post about millions Googling ‘what is the EU’ after voting to leave it was a typically patronising dig at the working class.
It did contain one grain of truth though: what workers did on Thursday was to reject Westminster just as much as to reject Brussels.
It was a signal by millions that they are, as Jeremy Corbyn put it in his usual understated manner, “fed up” with the way this country has been run for a long time.
The fact that most of the political left, including over 90 per cent of Labour MPs, the TUC and the vast majority of the trade unions, campaigned for a Remain vote – for understandable if misguided reasons in many cases – seriously weakened our ability to convince working people of the left case against the EU.
But in some ways the result provides greater room for hope than we imagined. If the Leave vote was not politically conscious, it was class conscious; and if it was not as specific a rejection of the EU as we might have wanted, it was in some ways broader. Because people’s anti-Establishment vote was an up-yours to an entire political class, it had as little time for Michael Gove or Frank Field as it did for Cameron and Osborne (something noted by Guardian columnist John Harris before the referendum).
Since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader last year it has been clear that British politics is polarising and we now face an intensification of class struggle.
David Cameron may have monumentally blundered in agreeing to hold this referendum, but his response to the outcome has been shrewd. By immediately promising to go, but not till October, he has muffled calls for his immediate resignation while giving the Tory Party breathing space to regroup and impose a new leadership prepared to continue and accelerate the attacks on the labour movement and workers’ rights.
Our party must ramp up the pressure for him to go sooner.
The situation in the Labour Party is also fraught. The ruling class’s representatives have enormous influence in the parliamentary party and have shown more than once that their class loyalties override their party ones. The most vicious attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership have repeatedly come when the Tories are themselves in crisis, as if to take the heat off the government.
This seemingly bizarre behaviour reflects an uncomfortable truth: Corbyn’s enemies in Labour don’t attack him because they think he will lose elections. They attack when they are worried he will win them.
The Tory Party is currently floundering and Corbyn’s ability to grasp that people voted Leave because of genuine grievances rather than sheer ignorance gives him a key advantage.
Whatever the odds, the PLP has moved swiftly to seek Corbyn’s head. The ostensible reasons are nonsensical – he is not pro-EU enough to lead Labour in a country which has just voted to leave the EU – but of course they are not the real ones, which are fear of an early election he could actually win, giving Britain a socialist prime minister – the worst nightmare of Ben Bradshaw as much as of David Cameron.
Twelve Labour affiliated unions have responded immediately, warning Labour against a manufactured leadership row, but one looks certain to explode nonetheless. This unions’ unity behind the Labour leadership is vital and extremely welcome.
The immediate priority of the left will need to be rebuilding unity around Corbyn’s leadership: its loss would set us back significantly, possibly for years.
We should have four priorities going forward:
- Ensuring the verdict of the people is not reversed. Already there are calls for a second referendum or for Parliament to ignore it. The delay in invoking Article 50 and starting the withdrawal process is dangerous.
- Fighting for the early resignation of the government to try to get our exit negotiation conducted by socialists rather than sociopaths, if that’s possible.
- Uniting against fascism, racism and bigotry, fear of which led many of our allies to vote Remain. These forces are on the march in many European countries and were not created by the referendum. Nonetheless we should not underestimate the seriousness of the menace after the tragic murder of Jo Cox and the shocking homophobic atrocity in Orlando.
- Defending the socialist leadership of the Labour Party at all costs. If immediate threats can be seen off, it may be possible for Labour to begin to sketch out a new path, free of EU constraints, in offering a programme that could mobilise the working class to turn a slap in the face for the Establishment into an actual change of direction for Britain.
We are at a potential turning point, with huge dangers as well as huge opportunities ahead. We have work to do.