In recent years the Tories have been carrying through a veritable bonfire of workers’ rights, environmental protections and human rights. This is really nothing new, and few on the left would disagree that the Tories have plans to ignite further bonfires in the near future. The matter of what to do with regards the results of the EU referendum results is however far more divisive.
But to begin with, let’s be absolutely clear: when the public voted to leave the EU, they understood that they were voting with a Tory government at the helm of our country. Likewise, for many good reasons, the working-class understand that the one thing they can trust most politicians to do is to lie (hence the dwindling participation of working-class people in parliamentary elections).
For these reasons, the so-called anti-Brexit campaign group, Another Europe is Possible, and their forthcoming “The Left Against Brexit” speaking tour, is moving in the totally wrong direction when they say that “Britain can stay and lead in the EU”.
The campaign is of course obliged to mouth respect for democracy when they say: “We respect the result of the referendum,” but they then undo this when they add that a “vital part of any democracy that people are allowed to change their minds.” They aim to allow this change of mind to happen by promoting another referendum, this time on the final terms of any Brexit-deal. This is a tactic that can only serve to alienate even more working-class people from electoral politics and from the left more generally.
The irony embodied within such dangerous “democratic” arguments is illustrated by the fact that their campaign includes amongst its current leadership, Dr Marina Prentoulis, a spokesperson for Syriza, who should know better than to ignore the popular mandate of the people. In a recent academic article titled “Left Populism: the challenges from grassroots to electoral politics” (2017), she writes:
“In terms of Greece, the [2008 financial] crisis revealed the structural inequalities inscribed in the Eurozone project, which enabled the financial sector to survive unscattered, while the people of Southern Europe and, especially, Greece still suffer the results of extreme austerity, unsustainable debt and impoverishment.”
The attacks of the Eurozone Troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission), which pushed “unprecedented austerity” (her words) upon the Greek people as part of the Eurozone bailout agreement (the so-called memorandum) are critical to understanding what is happening in Greece. Dr Prentoulis explains how Syriza “became the primary voice of opposition towards the old elites and the austerity imposed by the Troika” with “the establishment” being those “defined as those who signed the memorandum.”
Syriza of course had their own referendum in July 2015 when the Greek public voted overwhelmingly to reject the Troika’s austerity memorandum. Tragically, the leadership of Syriza chose to capitulate to the anti-democratic mandates of the Troika and betrayed the Greek working-class by failing to carry through the will of the people. Dr Prentoulis skates over this disastrous action, and after explaining that Syriza had initially opposed the Eurozone establishment commented: “(Of course, later that changed when the SYRIZA-led government was forced to accept the memorandum.)” But Syriza was never “forced” to ignore the massive mandate they received from the public. It was a political choice, and the wrong-one at that. And it was precisely this choice that has allowed the far-right to grow in strength because of Syriza’s open and unnecessary betrayal of the working-class.
There are many lessons from the Greek experience of the EU. The first is that the Corbyn-led Labour Party must oversee Britain’s exit from the EU. What we now need is a socialist Brexit, a complete break with the anti-democratic institutions of the EU. And to do this the utmost priority should be given to getting rid of our weak and divided Tory government.
The Tory government could be brought down this year, and so the very worst thing that Labour supporters should be doing now is trying to lead a campaign that for all intents and purposes aims to overturn the results of the Brexit referendum. Their energy would be far better spent in bringing about a general election, not another referendum.
There is no point in dwelling upon the obvious and predictable fact that both the mainstream media and political establishment promoted a racist narrative during debate in the run-up to the EU referendum. And certainly, the official Remain campaign was just as at fault as the Leave campaign for misinforming the public about what the EU really stood for.
On this point Dr Prentoulis acknowledges how “during the referendum campaign, the Remain side emphasized the economic consequences of a leave result, but, more often than not, by advocating the same neoliberal principles that had alienated big parts of the population.” Of course, at the same time, socialists attempted to put across the reasons why a Leave vote should be the official position of a socialist Labour Party (a message that was drowned out). But despite the left-wing leadership of Corbyn (and his hundreds-of-thousands of supporters), the right-wing majority of the members of the Parliamentary Labour Party tragically won the day and helped lead a pro-establishment Remain campaign.
Thankfully, Jeremy Corbyn, who is fully aware that the EU is no friend of the working-class, has stated that he will honour the results of the EU referendum and does not support the undemocratic calls being made by Dr Prentoulis and her friends at Another Europe is Possible. Dr Prentoulis points this out when, in frustration, she observes: “The Labour leadership, in order to avoid being branded as ‘the enemy of the people’ (those who will go against the will of the referendum), decided to vote in favour of triggering article 50.” She then added: “Although Labour still insists they will fight against the Conservative Brexit, it has not redefined Brexit. It just promises to oppose its more destructive terms at some future moment.”
The Socialist Party (of which I am a member) has always said that Corbyn should have ignored the Blairite threats from within the Parliamentary Labour Party in the run-up to the referendum (and afterwards), so he could reach out to the British population with a clearly articulated working-class message for why Britain is better off leaving the EU. That he did not do this was a tragedy, but one that can still be remedied. So, now Corbyn must take up the challenge that has been laid down by Dr Prentoulis, and in doing so redefine Brexit along socialist lines, laying out all the reasons why the EU is so destructive of working-class interests, and why a Labour government is willing and able to deliver a socialist Brexit.