As a matter of urgency in the UK and across Europe there needs to be a realignment of progressive forces, resolutely and unapologetically pro-migrant and in defence of multiculturalism.
Brexit was and is a revolt against the centre from the right in response to the crisis of neoliberalism. It is the UK manifestation of the recrudescence of reactionary and ultra nationalist politics that has taken place across Europe in response to this crisis, evincing a striking parallel with the 1930s. Thus Bertolt Brecht was right: “The womb from that which crawled remains fertile.”
You do not have to be a fulsome supporter or the EU to oppose Brexit, just as communists in Germany in the early 1930s did not have to support social democracy in order to oppose fascism. That the pro-Brexit left failed to learn this lesson has only wrought confusion and been, at least in part, responsible for the lack of any serious and coherent resistance to the rise of the far right in recent times. The right is clearly now winning the battle of ideas among large swathes of the working class, specifically in post-industrial regions of England, when it comes to locating responsibility for the grievous consequences of austerity at the door of migrants, Muslims, and minorities in general.
Thus the Free Tommy Robinson movement is the catalyst for an eruption of counter-multiculturalism, nativism, reaction and racism within a growing section of the white working class – all of which has been incubating over the course of the class war unleashed by the Tories under the rubric of the aforementioned austerity. Strip away the obfuscation and dissembling and austerity is an exercise in effecting the redistribution of wealth from the working class and the poor to the rich and corporations with the aim of maintaining the rate of profit; this in response to the worst economic crisis and recession since the 1930s. The net result of austerity after eight years is Dickensian levels of poverty, destitution and concomitant despair.
Neoliberalism is to all intents dead as a viable economic model. However rather than bury its corpse the political class, acting as de facto agents of the banks and global corporations, have been desperately attempting to keep it on life support, thereby exacerbating rather than ameliorating the crisis.
Corbyn’s position on Brexit has lacked clarity, vigour and serious understanding of the regressive social and political forces that have been shaped in its wake. The situation demands, therefore, a serious reappraisal within the Labour left of the leadership’s ongoing efforts to navigate a fudge – trying to satisfy its Remain supporting membership and Brexit supporting constituency at the same time, and only succeeding in disappointing both. As for Momentum, currently it is less a movement and more a monument, having little if any impact on the ground relative to its size.
You don’t win the allegiance of the working class by appeasing its most regressive and least conscious strata, and neither is it tenable to stand by and spectate at the demonisation and dehumanisation of migrants on the basis that free movement undercuts wages. Only the most feckless doctrinaire would embrace the capitalist principle of supply and demand as the cornerstone of his or her analysis and praxis. The trade union movement was founded to interfere with this principle in the interests of the working class on the basis of struggle; and it is only on the basis of struggle that it will be defeated today. The alternative is to become a pawn in their game.
In Scotland, with the emergence of Scottish nationalism as an inclusive and progressive counterweight to Thatcherism, the far right has been denied the oxygen of normalisation when it comes to anti-migrant bigotry in the context of Brexit. Indeed something of a renaissance of radical and progressive politics has been underway in Scotland for some time, testament to the work of the Radical Independence Campaign in 2014, which has helped push social democracy, in the shape of the SNP, to the left on key social and economic issues. Moreover, in embracing an inclusive civic nationalism the SNP has filled the space vacated by New Labour in opposition to Thatcherism.
Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party has failed to make a dent in the SNP’s domination of this space, mostly due to the ongoing internal struggle within the PLP, but also as a result of the failure to deal adequately with the National Question post-Brexit, given that 62% of voters in the EU referendum in Scotland voted to Remain. Here, for the purposes of clarity, let me say that I offer this as someone who was opposed to independence first time round, but who now supports it in the wake of Brexit.
There is no arguing with the fact that culturally the post-industrial English working class in regions of the country have succumbed to national myths surrounding Britain’s colonial history, a history wielded by mainstream Brexit political forces as a reflex against multiculturalism and misplaced sense of Britain’s role in the world. Add to this noxious cocktail the blowback from British foreign policy in the Middle East, fuelling a spate of terrorist atrocities, and we have ourselves something approximating to a perfect storm.
Consequently, and as a matter of urgency, there needs to be a realignment of progressive forces in the UK and across Europe. That those progressive forces are resolutely pro-migrant, pro-multiculturalism, and understand the difference between the near enemy, the far right, and the far enemy, an EU which in its current form is a product of neoliberalism rather than its cause, this is non-negotiable.
There is a distinction to be made between short term priorities, rooted in necessity, and longer term objectives, which can only be achieved on the back of a mass consciousness that has been shaped by the idea of a socialist alternative to the status quo.
The short term priority revolves around winning the struggle against the forces of reaction for the right to shape this mass consciousness.