Notes on the Crisis of Imperialism: Brexit [ii]

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This is the 2nd 1/2 of a speech on the recent referendum on Britain’s membership to the European Union (EU). It deals with the Brexit crisis & the split in the British Labour party. The 1st part, covering the run up to the referendum, alongside the fundamental characteristics of British Imperialism & European Imperialism, can be found here.

The speech was delivered on 23 July 2016. As such, certain sections of the below text are out of date. An addendum covering subsequent concrete developments will follow shortly after the conclusion of the Labour Party leadership election on 24 September. An additional article, which will outline certain theoretical concepts, will precede this.

The Brexit crisis

Less than 2 months have passed since the referendum results. Years have passed in days.

Boris Johnson (2016) announced his support for the leave campaign on 16 March. In the context that followed, this was tantamount to announcing a leadership bid against Cameron & Osborne. It backfired. Following the referendum, Cameron quickly announced his resignation, arguing that it should be up to a pro-Brexit leader to head Britain through negotiations with the EU. It would be up to the next Prime Minister to negotiate with Europe then trigger a general election. Aside from Farage, the leave campaign stalled. It had no plan for what would happen following its victory whatsoever. 88 pro-Brexit Conservative MPs called on Cameron to stay. Johnson, aware that the main obstacles to his leadership were dissolving, said that there was ‘no rush’ to open negotiations with the EU (Yaffe & Brickley, 2016). As the middle class & the bulk of the remain campaign – the self-named “48%” – reeled in horror, holding demonstrations demanding a 2nd referendum, Gove seized the opportunity. On 30 June, following a leaked email from Mrs Gove that placed doubt on Johnson’s intent, Gove  announced his candidacy. His launch statement was a compendium of insults, mixed with an affectation of humility. Hours later, Johnson announced that he would not be standing (Brickley, 2016).

The entirety of the Conservative leadership contest has been framed by the defeat of the remain campaign. The candidates were forced to treat the leave vote as a condemnation on Cameron’s government by the electorate. So entered a collection of hardened Imperialists & racists into the leadership race on 1 July, each of them intent on distancing themselves from the image of an old Etonian elite. Theresa May (Home Secretary), Stephen Crabb (Work & Pensions Secretary), Liam Fox (former Defence Secretary) & Andrea Leadsom (Energy Secretary) all announced their candidacy on the same day. May, a vile racist whose actions as Home Secretary Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! has covered in substantial detail (see Jameson, 2012; Jameson,2013; Bell, 2014), & Leadsom, a leading Brexit MP with a CV reactionary to its rotten core, quickly established themselves as frontrunners. Every candidate attempted to appeal to the “ordinary” people of Britain & committed to a tightening of immigration controls, an implementation of Brexit & a glorious future. This was the essential theme of both May’s campaign launch & her 1st speech as Prime Minister (Brickley, 2016; Doherty, 2016). The essential point – how best to protect the interests of British Imperialism following the referendum – wasn’t on offer.

Whilst this was all unfolding, chaos reigned. The £ plummeted to its lowest level since 1985 (Allen, Treanor & Goodley, 2016). Between 23 & 28 July global stock markets lost $3tr (Egan, 2016). Over the same period Virgin, 1 of the highest grossing companies in Britain, lost ⅓ of its value & cancelled a contract, thus sacrificing 3,000 jobs (Sheffield, 2016). Osborne abandoned his somewhat fanciful aim of achieving a budget surplus in public finance by 2020. On 1 July, during an interview on the BBC’s Newsnight, the reality of the EU’s attitude toward the Brexit was made very clear by EU Trade Commissioner, Cecilla Malmstrom: ‘First you exit then you negotiate’ (Urban, 2016). France is making moves to secure in Paris any of the groups presently based in the City of London that may be thinking of leaving. Any & all negotiations on trade were ruled out until Britain triggered Article 50. The European Imperialists squeezed, pushing to see how serious the British bourgeoisie were. Cameron’s visit to Brussels prior to this did nothing to smooth matters over. This tough stance is important for the leading EU countries, who fear that a Brexit could trigger further EU disintegration (Khan, 2016).

In the week following the referendum, racist attacks reported to the police in Britain increased by 5x (Parveen & Sherwood, 2016). Those indentured racists in the leave campaign became emboldened, as all reactionary forces necessarily would be by the victory of such clearly racist campaign. Simultaneously, a petition registered the disgust of the remain campaign, the middle class & the labour aristocracy, demanding a 2nd referendum & reaching 4m signatures 6 days after the referendum (Millward & Eysenck, 2016). A protest on Tuesday 28 June outside Parliament & in Trafalgar Square attracted hundreds of, mostly younger, protesters.

Theresa May’s victory in the leadership contest was swift, taking less time even than Brown’s uncontested takeover from Blair. Although the leadership contest was originally scheduled to end on 9 September. May & Leadsom knocked out other candidates in 2 rounds of voting. During the 1st ballot, May secured exactly ½ of all Conservative MPs & Leadsom 2nd to her. The 2nd ballot eliminated Gove from the running, with May gaining 199 votes, Leadsom 84 votes & Gove only 46 (BBC, 2016). Following her comments that she would be best placed to lead the Conservative Party “as a mother”, Leadsom withdrew from the race on 11 July (Asthana, Mason & Elgot, 2016). May won uncontested.

Following her appointment as Prime Minister on 14 July, May spared no time in forming her new cabinet. Osborne got the boot as Chancellor, being replaced by Philip Hammond. Hammond is a vile reactionary, notable for his consistent support for austerity measures & his comparison of same-gender marriage to incest (Mason, Walker & Elgot, 2016). The roles of Foreign Secretary, Secretary for exiting the EU, International trade Secretary & Internal development Secretary are all to be played by leave campaigners, a line-up that features Boris as Foreign Secretary. 

So, where does Britain stand in relation to the EU? May’s visit to Brussels this week can shed some light on this matter. What has become clear is that German Imperialism is less willing to cut ties with Britain. The crucial component for Britain was to argue that talks can proceed before & alongside the triggering of Article 50. This would be a privilege for Britain above other countries in the EU, as Article 50 requires a 2 year negotiation period after its execution & prohibits the negotiation of bilateral trade agreements throughout this period (Wintour, 2016). Earlier this week, Angela Merkel voiced her support for negotiations accompanying a Brexit rather than after, stating ‘I think it is in all our interests if Great Britain applies to this exit with a very well defined negotiating position and with the clear possibility to say, how do we envision our future relationship to the EU. These must be parallel processes because you cannot cut ties first and then figure out in another long negotiation process which relationship one enters.’ Similar advice has come from the US.

May is, however, in no great rush. She intends to trigger Article 50 next year (Bowcott, 2016). Brexit is to be pushed back at all costs, until it is nonsense. Neither will there be a general election, something that May ruled out in opening her campaign for the Conservative leadership contest (Stone, 2016).

To the right, to the right:
Jeremy Corbyn & the Imperialist Labour party

All the Labour Party had to do to gain credibility with the people it cares about was stay quiet & blame the referendum on the Conservatives. The mass exodus of Labour MPs from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet between the 25 & 26 June ensured that this wasn’t going to happen. On 28 June the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) demonstrated that a coup was underway against Corbyn, Labour MPs voting no confidence in him by 172 votes to 40. Corbyn’s support in the 2015 leadership election saw the vast majority of Labour Party members offer him their support with an overwhelming 59.5% of the vote (Clough, 2016). With a Brexit vote & the potential of a general election on the horizon, the PLP could not tolerate Corbyn’s position as leader, both for his perceived lack of enthusiasm for the remain campaign & for his anti-austerity bluster.

The Labour Party needed to adopt a remain stance in the EU referendum. As the political representative of the labour aristocracy (Clough, 2014) – now dominantly constituted of university educated public sector workers – it could take no other position (Clough, 2016). As we have already said, this section of British society looks to the EU as a guarantor of its interests. There was no other way for a party so directly tied to these interests.

Corbyn’s position as leader of the Labour Party has always presented him with a clear question. He can either resist austerity, placing him in opposition to the vast majority of the PLP, or he can compromise. When it came to the bombing campaign in Syria, he compromised & allowed a free vote (Wintour & Mason, 2015). When it came to council cuts, he instructed Labour led councils to implement austerity budgets (Bell, 2016). Now, as he comes under such open assault, he has stood firm. There is a certain irony to any statement that Corbyn’s leadership represents all of our interests in such circumstances.

To cover only the essentials:

24 June: Angela Eagle registers a website, “angela4leader”.

25 June: Hilary Benn tells Corbyn that he no longer has confidence in Corbyn as leader. Corbyn fires him.

25-28 June: Labour MPs, organised by Benn, leave in response to his sacking. Over 3 days 20 shadow cabinet ministers, 28 ministers & 11 Parliamentary Private Secretaries tender their resignations.

28 June: Vote of no confidence on Corbyn. Eagle announces her intention to put in a bid for leadership if Corbyn does not resign.

29 June: General secretaries of 10 of the largest trade unions in Britain (including Unite, Unison & the GMB) sign a joint statement in support of Corbyn. Len McCluskey (Unite general secretary) begins attempts to broker talks between Corbyn & those opposed to him.

9 July: Deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, destroys attempts at talks, claiming that there could be no progress without Corbyn’s resignation.

10 July: Eagle tells ITV’s Robert Pertson that Corbyn will have to secure nominations from 20% of the Labour Party’s MPs & MEPs in order to stand in the leadership contest.

11 July: Eagle annouces leadership bid.

12 July: Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) rules that Corbyn will not need 20% of nominations in order to stand. He will appear on the ballot automatically. The same meeting rules that Labour Party members that joined after 12 January 2016 would not be able to vote unless they pay a supporter fee of £25 by 20 July.

20 July: Around 183,000 people register as Labour Party members within 48 hours, all of them paying £25 for the privilege. Labour Party secures over £4,575,000.

As we have said, the Imperialist British Labour Party stands as the political representation of the labour aristocracy in Britain. This section of society finds its material privilege in those superprofits exploited from the oppressed world by British Imperialism (see Clough, 2014 for an extended proof of this). It is politically & materially tied to British Imperialism. The Labour Party & the strata of society that it represents are the dominant form of opportunism in Britain.

Lenin (1924) defines opportunism as ‘an alliance between an insignificant section at the “top” of the labour movement, and its “own” national bourgeoisie, directed against the masses of the proletariat, an alliance between the servants of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie, directed against the class that is exploited by the bourgeoisie.’ The opportunists are ‘a manifestation of the bourgeoisie’s influence over the proletariat’, serving as the ideological protectorate of the bourgeoisie within the proletariat itself.

The present crisis of British Imperialism has created a clear contradiction for the politics of the dominant opportunists – the labour aristocracy – in Britain. On the 1 hand, austerity is eroding at their material privilege, is forcing them into a process of proletarianisation (Barr & Malik, 2016). In this sense, austerity presents itself as an enemy of the labour aristocracy. It must be fought so they may defend themselves. On the other hand, austerity is necessary for the continued existence of British Imperialism (Bell, 2015). In this sense, austerity presents itself as an ally of the labour aristocracy. Austerity is a defence of Imperialism – the only basis upon which the labour aristocracy may maintain its relative wealth. From the standpoint of British opportunism, which will not allow for proletarian mobilisation (let alone Socialism), this contradiction is insoluble.

So, this battle is taken in the form of Corbyn & his opponents in the PLP. It is a confrontation upon which the existence of the labour aristocracy’s immediate fate hangs. It cannot & will not be resolved within the framework of the Labour Party: a split is inevitable.

With this split in the Labour Party, politics in Britain will begin.

References:

Note: Dates given are that of original publication of the text wherever possible. This applies particularly to Lenin.

Allen, K., Treanor, J. & Goodley, S. (2016). Pound slumps to 31-year low following Brexit vote. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://goo.gl/NQthBa [Accessed 22 Jul. 2016].

Asthana, A., Mason, R. & Elgot, J. (2016). Andrea Leadsom pulls out of Conservative leadership race. The Guardian. [online] Available at: http://goo.gl/nIiv5o [Accessed 22 Jul. 2016].

Barr, C. & Malik, S. (2016). Revealed: the 30-year economic betrayal dragging down Generation Y’s income. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://goo.gl/o0nh9V [Accessed 24 Jul. 2016].

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Doherty, C. (2016). Theresa May’s first speech to the nation as prime minister – in full. The Independent. [online] Available at: http://goo.gl/57skXZ [Accessed 22 Jul. 2016].

Egan, M. (2016). Brexit crash wiped out a record $3 trillion. Now what?. [online] CNN Money. Available at: http://goo.gl/EOANpu [Accessed 21 Jul. 2016].

Jameson, N. (2012). Theresa May and Britain’s racist, hypocritical extradition practices. Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!. [online] Available at: http://goo.gl/3viLwD [Accessed 22 Jul. 2016].

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Parveen, N. & Sherwood, H. (2016). Police log fivefold rise in race-hate complaints since Brexit result. The Guardian. [online] Available at: https://goo.gl/UaF9VC [Accessed 22 Jul. 2016].

Sheffield, H. (2016). Richard Branson: Virgin lost a third of its value, cancelled contract worth 3,000 jobs because of leave victory. The Independent. [online] Available at: http://goo.gl/AvM8Qa [Accessed 22 Jul. 2016].

Stone, J. (2016). Theresa May rules out early general election or second EU referendum if she becomes Conservative leader. The Independent. [online] Available at: http://goo.gl/eDAhL9 [Accessed 22 Jul. 2016].

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