Socialists should oppose the new cold war against China – a reply to Paul Mason

This article originally appeared in the Morning Star.

Living in the heartlands of imperialism, you learn to expect censure if you defend socialism and oppose war. To be attacked by the forces of the hard right is nothing unusual; as Sekou Toure observed, “if the enemy is not doing anything against you, you are not doing anything.” Hence getting trolled by Donald Trump Jr for example can comfortably be worn as a badge of honour.

To be attacked by a stalwart of the left, someone who had been a prominent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, is of course less welcome. In a recent piece for the New Statesman, Paul Mason singles out the Morning Star and Socialist Action as being “the two left-wing publications in the UK that appear committed to whitewashing China’s authoritarian form of capitalism”, highlighting articles by myself, the Morning Star editor and John Ross.

Uncritical parroting of Cold War propaganda

Mason’s key complaint against the anti-imperialist left is that it “parrots the Chinese state”, for example by labelling the Hong Kong protestors as a “violent fringe”. It’s ironic then that, in his critique, he prefers to parrot the China hawks in Washington – the likes of Donald Trump, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton and Peter Navarro.

Mason states for example that the Chinese state is “using forced labour, sexual violence, coercive ‘re-education’ and mass incarceration” to destroy Uyghur culture. The evidentiary basis for this narrative, which has now become hegemonic in the West, is laughably weak, on a par with the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, or that Muammar Gaddafi was using rape as a weapon of war.

These are perhaps sore points, since Mason supported the bombing of Libya and as recently as 2017 put forward the view that Iraq was ‘bluffing’ about having WMD, implying that the Iraq War was built on faulty intelligence – rather than being a knowing and callous act of imperialist domination.

The allegations regarding Chinese mistreatment of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population have been comprehensively debunked by Ajit Singh and Max Blumenthal, and there’s no need to recapitulate their work here. What’s worth noting however is the depressing familiarity of how the ‘Uyghur genocide’ story has become so widespread: separatist extremist group (in this case the World Uyghur Congress) forms an alliance with Washington-based NGO (in this case the Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders), which uses US tax-payer money – via the National Endowment for Democracy – to create a slick PR campaign building mass support for a broad-based attack on an ‘enemy state’ (in this case China).

It was a very similar process that won significant support within the Western left for NATO’s wars in Yugoslavia, Libya and Syria. Interestingly, the two publications Mason cites in his recent attack – the Morning Star and Socialist Action – were among the honourable few that weren’t duped by this propaganda. Paul Mason on the other hand cannot make such a claim. Indeed his major criticism of the Western powers over Libya and Syria is the ‘powerlessness’ of their regime change operations.

By accusing others of “parroting the Chinese state”, Mason is simply trying to divert attention from his own record of parroting State Department talking points that serve specifically to build public support for wars (of both the hot and cold variety).

This isn’t taking a principled and consistent stance against injustice; it’s feeding into a dangerous propaganda campaign that’s combined with economic sanctions, naval patrols in the South China Sea, the construction of military bases, a strategy of ‘China encirclement’, diplomatic attacks, support for violent separatist movements, and an economic and political ‘delinking’ that threatens to demolish global cooperation around some of the crucial issues of our time, including climate change and pandemic containment.

Neither Washington nor Beijing?

Mason informs his readers that “the point of being a socialist is being able to walk and chew gum at the same time.” This isn’t an idea that I’ve come across in the writings of Marx, Engels or Lenin, but presumably it’s buried somewhere in the Grundrisse. Anyway, Mason’s point is that a good leftist can condemn both the US and China; that one should adopt a position of Neither Washington nor Beijing. This position – which appears to be gaining traction in parts of the left – was absurd in its original Neither Washington nor Moscow form, and it’s absurd now.

To put an equals sign between the US and China, to portray their relationship as a rivalry between imperialist blocs, is to completely misunderstand the most important question in global politics today.

The baseline foreign policy position of the US is to maintain its hegemony; to consolidate a system of international relations (economic, diplomatic, cultural and military) that benefits the US ruling class. This has its clearest expression in the wars, sanctions and destabilisation campaigns it wages, with devastating consequences, in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.

China on the other hand strongly promotes peaceful cooperation and competition; it consistently opposes war; and it pushes a multipolar model of international relations – “a pattern of multiple centres of power, all with a certain capacity to influence world affairs, shaping a negotiated order” (Jenny Clegg, China’s Global Strategy).

In the words of Hugo Chávez: ”China is large but it’s not an empire. China doesn’t trample on anyone, it hasn’t invaded anyone, it doesn’t go around dropping bombs on anyone.” Equating the US and China means failing to stand up to a Cold War which is being waged specifically by the US and its allies. The target of this war is not just China but the whole concept of a democratic world order. As such, Neither Washington nor Beijing is better understood as Neither imperialism nor anti-imperialism.

The point of being a socialist

If there’s a “point to being a socialist”, it’s to work for the maximum extension of human rights to all people. Foremost among those rights are the right to life, to peace, to education, to healthcare, to freedom from poverty, to freedom from discrimination. A socialist surely believes that all people should be able to access a dignified, fulfilling, healthy and interesting life.

China has made rather impressive progress in that direction, having lifted over 800 million people out of poverty in the last few decades. At the time of the declaration of the People’s Republic in 1949, after a century of imperialist domination and civil war, China was one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average life expectancy of just over 30 and a pitifully low level of human development. Currently China’s life expectancy is 77 years and its literacy rate 100 percent. All Chinese have access to healthcare, education and modern energy. This is, without any exaggeration, the most remarkable campaign against poverty and for human rights in history.

The late Egyptian political theorist Samir Amin, who knew something of the conditions of life in the Third World, wrote of China’s successes in poverty alleviation: “No one in good faith who has travelled thousands of miles through the rich and poor regions of China, and visited many of its large cities, can fail to admit that he never encountered there anything as shaming as the unavoidable sights in the countryside and shantytowns of the third world.” (Beyond US Hegemony: Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World)

And yet, a prominent British leftist like Paul Mason can casually reduce the nature of the Chinese state to “China’s capitalist billionaire torturers” and “the brutal authoritarianism of the CCP.” Quite frankly, if you acknowledge China’s successes improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people but you think it’s “brutal vulture capitalism”, then perhaps you have to stop calling yourself a leftist and accept that brutal vulture capitalism is better than you thought!

Oppose imperialism and McCarthyism

The fundamental problem with Paul Mason is that, in the final analysis, he stands on the side of imperialism. Even his support for the Left Labour project – now quickly dropped in the era of Starmer – existed within a pro-imperialist framework, rejecting Corbyn’s anti-war internationalism and pushing support for NATO and Trident renewal.

Washington is currently leading the way towards a New Cold War that poses a potentially existential threat to humanity. This New Cold War is accompanied by a New McCarthyism which seeks to denigrate and isolate those people and movements that work for peace and multipolarity. In joining in with – and giving a left veneer to – this witch-hunt, Paul Mason provides proof once again that he doesn’t have any useful role to play in paving the long road to socialism.

Labour should not be parroting Trump’s anti-China Cold War rhetoric

This article originally appeared in the Morning Star

There’s been a worrying upsurge in anti-China propaganda on both sides of the Atlantic. While imperialist hostility towards China’s rise has become an intrinsic characteristic of the current era – particularly since the launch of the ‘Pivot to Asia’ by the Obama administration in 2011 – the rhetoric has become increasingly hysterical and absurd over the last few months.

There are currently four main lines of attack being pushed on a daily basis by the US and British ruling classes:

  1. The newly-introduced National Security Law is an attack on the basic freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and violates China’s legal obligations under the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984.
  2. The Uyghur population of Xinjiang is being repressed in any number of indescribably brutal ways, including through mass incarceration in ‘re-education camps’ and forced sterilisation.
  3. China – as a result of its secrecy, incompetence, vindictiveness, or some combination thereof – didn’t give the world sufficient warning of the Covid-19 outbreak and must therefore bear responsibility for the havoc being wreaked by the pandemic.
  4. China’s technology companies are providing, or seek to provide, secret information to the Chinese state, and therefore their involvement in Western economies should be actively restricted.

Unsurprisingly, it’s the US government leading the charge. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accuses China of having “broken multiple international commitments including those to the WHO, the WTO, the United Nations and the people of Hong Kong”. He rails against China’s “predatory economic practices, such as trying to force nations to do business with Huawei, an arm of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state.”

This is a bi-partisan position in the US, sadly. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden is keen to prove he’s also every bit the China hawk, threatening sanctions and promoting a zany and totally unfounded smear about the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women. Even progressive congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have joined in with this mindless China-bashing.

In both the US and Britain, relations with China are at their lowest point for decades. It’s no surprise that the Boris Johnson government, instinctively Atlanticist and desperately pursuing a post-Brexit trade agreement with the US at almost any cost, is largely parroting Trump’s line.

Having agreed in January to Huawei having a role in the development of Britain’s 5G infrastructure, the government is now considering dropping Huawei so as not to be “vulnerable to a high-risk state vendor”. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has stated there’ll be “no return to business as usual” in Britain’s relations with China. Meanwhile, leading government officials have been vocal in their criticism of Hong Kong’s new National Security Law, going so far as to offer some three million Hong Kong residents the opportunity to settle in Britain and apply for citizenship.

Those of us who stand for peace and for mutually beneficial cooperation between Britain and China might hope that the Labour Party would provide some meaningful opposition to the government’s reckless behaviour. Unfortunately the indications thus far are that Labour is enthusiastically climbing aboard the New Cold War bandwagon.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy has been actively promoting anti-China propaganda and pushing the Tories to take a harder stance against China, for example urging that action be taken against British businesses that are “complicit in the repression” in Hong Kong (ie that don’t actively support the riots).

While Nandy’s words might bring disappointment to socialists, progressives and peace activists, they were at least welcome in certain quarters: notorious right-wing blogger Guido Fawkes celebrated the “welcome change in Labour Party policy – standing up to, rather than cosying up to despotic regimes.”

Nandy’s position is however positively nuanced in comparison to that of Stephen Kinnock, Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific, who accuses China of promoting its “model of responsive authoritarian government” worldwide. Kinnock describes the ‘golden era’ of Sino-British relations, inaugurated during the Cameron government, as being an “abject failure” in which Britain had “rolled out the red carpet for China and got very very little in return”.

It therefore seems that the Labour leadership in its current incarnation is moving towards unambiguous support for the US-led New Cold War on China. It’s particularly demoralising that, with a few honourable exceptions, most notably Diane Abbott, the Labour left isn’t currently putting up any serious resistance to this dangerous trajectory.

While very few Labour MPs have spoken of the dangers of a New Cold War, John McDonnell has recorded a histrionic (and hopelessly one-sided) denunciation of the Chinese state’s alleged mistreatment of the Uyghur Muslims. Apsana Begum has repeated these tropes in parliament, claiming that when the Chinese government celebrates its successful suppression of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement’s murderous bombing campaign, its “definition of terrorism is troublingly vague”. The usually-excellent Claudia Webbe has called on the government to “oppose state-sanctioned violence” in Hong Kong, choosing to ignore the United States-sanctioned violence of separatist protestors.

This is all frankly disastrous and worrying. The US administration is leading a very serious escalation of the New Cold War, trying to isolate China, trying to demonise it, trying to undermine it and to prevent its economic rise. The propaganda ‘soft war’ with regard to Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Covid-19 is combined with moves towards economic ‘decoupling’ along with ‘hard war’ encirclement measures, including ramped up and provocative patrols in the South China Sea.

A New Cold War will bring no benefit whatsoever to ordinary British people. It will mean fewer jobs, reduced investment, reduced export markets and increased prices on imports. All this will be accompanied by rising anti-Asian racism and a renewed momentum along the ideological dead-end of empire nostalgia. Even the relatively more sane representatives of the ruling class such as Jeffrey Sachs recognise the danger of this wave of sinophobia “spiralling into greater controversy and greater danger”, resulting in a US-China Cold War that’s “a bigger global threat than the coronavirus.”

What British people need to do, in the interests of peace and progress, is to push for respectful, friendly and mutually beneficial relations with China. Opposing the New Cold War must become a key priority for the labour and anti-war movements.

Activists in Britain and the US are organising an international online meeting against the New Cold War, to take place on Saturday 25 July at 2pm BST. Speakers include Medea Benjamin, Vijay Prashad, Qiao Collective, Wang Wen, Jenny Clegg and Kate Hudson. More info at

Why Labour lost the elections, and where we go from here

This article was also published by Telesur English on 21 December, 2019.

The UK parliamentary election of 12 December was a disaster for the working class and for oppressed communities; a defeat for the young, the elderly, people with disabilities, ethnic minorities, women, LGBT+ people, migrants and Muslims; a defeat for a planet that needs rescuing from climate catastrophe; a defeat for a world crying out for an end to imperialist warmongering and aggression.

Labour went into the election with a powerful manifesto – a set of commitments that would have made life significantly better for millions of people, a platform from which to develop a peace-oriented multilateral foreign policy, a Green New Deal that could turn Britain into a trailblazer in the global fight against climate breakdown. Had Labour emerged victorious from the elections, the British government would have been led by some of the most consistent socialists in the country’s history; people who have fought against all types of discrimination and injustice their whole lives; people who taken the side of the oppressed and challenged the elite; people who have stood in solidarity with Palestine, Ireland, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.

Tragically, Labour lost 60 seats and the Conservatives ended up with an overall majority of 80 seats (in spite of only having increased its vote share by 1.2 percent). This gives the Tories a commanding position from which to deepen austerity, deepen the racist ‘hostile environment’, form a comprehensive economic/political/military alignment with Trump’s US, and push through a neoliberal Brexit that impoverishes the many and enriches the few.

Did we go wrong over Brexit?

It’s only natural that Labour members and supporters now embark on a period of reflection and soul-searching. Why did we lose so badly, in spite of our great policies and in spite of how close we came to winning power at the last election in 2017? In spite of the energetic campaigning of thousands of activists around the country; in spite of ringing endorsements from the the likes of Stormzy, Akala, Brian Eno, Rob Delaney, Benjamin Zephaniah and Ronan Bennett?

One explanation that’s proving popular within the socialist left is that it was a fatal error to adopt a position of negotiating a new Brexit deal and then putting that to a referendum. The logic goes that, in 2017, we went into the election having promised to honour the results of the Brexit referendum, and we performed well. In 2019, we went into the election committed to a second referendum, and we did badly, ergo we should have stuck to our previous position on Brexit.

If only politics were so simple. The first rule of statistical analysis is that correlation isn’t causation. Labour’s Brexit policy changed and we performed poorly in the election, but there are many other moving parts to consider. We could just as factually state that in 2017 we went into the election without a commitment to free broadband, and we did well. In 2019, we had a policy of free broadband, and we did badly. Should we therefore deduce that our refusal to engage with voters’ concerns over fibre-optic technology was the cause of our defeat?

What’s true is that, although Labour lost far more votes to pro-Remain parties than pro-Leave parties, the bulk of the seats that were lost were in majority Leave-voting constituencies, particularly in the Midlands and the North. It’s possible that some of these could have been saved if we’d had a clearly pro-Brexit position, but only possible. We don’t know if voters would have supported a ‘Labour Brexit’ which sought to somewhat mitigate the racism and free market fundamentalism of the Tory Brexit project (albeit still pandering to xenophobia by seeking to end EU freedom of movement). The right-wing press would certainly have found ways to present this as a ‘sell-out’ and to insist that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Then there’s the awkward fact that, even though the overall electorate in these constituencies voted to leave the EU, the majority of Labour voters favour remaining.

Plus it’s clear there were other factors in these constituencies’ desertion of Labour. Labour has been losing support in these areas for the best part of two decades, the result of general disillusionment with the status quo, the declining influence of trade unions (along with declining industries), some anaemic or downright reactionary MPs, ambivalent councils, a feeling that “Labour has taken us for granted for too long”, and a rising tide of xenophobic propaganda that has sought to blame immigrants for decaying living standards.

Another factor to consider is that there are dozens of marginals that could easily have been lost if Labour had a more pro-Brexit position, and indeed dozens of marginals that might have been won if Labour had a more anti-Brexit position. After all, for 28 percent of Labour voters, “stopping Brexit” was one of their top three reasons for voting Labour.

The polling trajectory throughout 2019 certainly doesn’t correspond with the hypothesis that Labour would have won the election had it adopted a more pro-Brexit position: from a high of 37 percent at the beginning of the year, Labour’s share went into decline as the original date for departing the EU – 29 March – approached. Labour received a pitiful 13 percent of the vote in the EU elections in May, and Labour’s general election polling reached its nadir of 25 percent during the period it was in talks with the Tories to try and reach some agreement over Brexit. Labour’s share started to increase after the party conference in September (at which the final position on Brexit was agreed) and then rose rapidly during the campaign, reaching 33 percent. This increase came specifically at the cost of the Liberal Democrats, whose vote share fell from 21 percent to 12 percent over the course of the campaign. Obviously this transfer of votes from Lib Dems to Labour wouldn’t have taken place if Labour had gone into the election with an unambiguously pro-Brexit stance.

Labour’s policy of negotiating a ‘soft’ Brexit deal (that retained Customs Union membership and protected workers’ rights) and subjecting that deal to a referendum was a mature and reasonable position for a party whose membership and voters are pro-Remain by a significant margin. In a situation where there are bitter divisions over Brexit throughout the Labour Party and the country as a whole, Labour’s position paved a road to unity and compromise. It took a damaging neoliberal Tory Brexit off the table, but it didn’t follow the flagrantly undemocratic Liberal Democrat pledge to scrap the original referendum altogether. Although the media tried to portray the policy as confusing and complicated, in reality it was perfectly simple, albeit without the vacuous soundbite quality of ‘Get Brexit Done’.

Not every battle is winnable. The election was called specifically to resolve the issue of Brexit, which is something that divides Labour’s support base and that doesn’t meaningfully divide the Tory support base. Boris Johnson used his first months in office to impose pro-Brexit message discipline on his MPs; he then called an election knowing full well that Labour’s support would be split, that Labour’s unifying policy hadn’t had long enough to gain broad support, and that the chillingly mendacious message of ‘Get Brexit Done’ would resonate with a significant part of the public that’s sick to the back teeth with endless parliamentary dilly-dallying. In that sense, Britain leaving the EU has acquired a symbolic power not unlike Donald Trump’s border wall.

Could Labour have won the election?

In these elections the ruling class employed a much more systematic and sophisticated approach to ensuring defeat for the Labour left. This approach had two main aspects: electoral strategy and media bias.

The success of the ruling class’s electoral strategy can be seen by the fact that the Tory vote only increased by 1.2 percent, but their share of parliamentary seats increased by 15 percent (from 317 to 365). Boris Johnson’s campaign team clearly targeted its energies and advertising spend in certain key constituencies. In this the Tories received enormous help from Nigel Farage, whose Brexit Party didn’t target any Conservative-held seats and instead focused on driving Labour’s vote down in marginals with a significant number of pro-Brexit Labour voters. The Brexit Party won a similar proportion of the vote to UKIP in 2017, but this time its strategy was carefully calculated to help secure a Boris Johnson majority, as instructed by Donald Trump.

Meanwhile the Lib Dems and Greens stood against Labour in lots of marginals, although the Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru agreed not to stand against each other in 60 seats. The first Labour loss announced on election night was Blyth Valley, where the Green vote of 1,146 was larger than the difference between the Tory and Labour votes. In Kensington, Emma Dent Coad – one of the best Labour MPs – was defeated by a margin of 150, with the Greens taking 535 votes and the Lib Dems running a very high profile campaign, again with the result of gifting the seat to the Tories.

It’s obviously the case that Jeremy Corbyn is unacceptable to a British ruling class that wants to continue austerity, that doesn’t want to see a meaningful redistribution of wealth, and that does want to continue fighting imperialist wars. That class identified Corbynism as an existential threat and, as the oldest and most experienced ruling class in history (albeit now showing signs of senile decay) went all out to stop it, using all the tricks in their book, their spooks, the right-wing press and the Chief Rabbi, not to mention the right wing of the Labour Party itself.

The media campaign against Corbyn was utterly vicious and relentless. In the words of the journalist and historian Mark Curtis, it “went far beyond anything against any previous Labour leader. It was surely the biggest propaganda campaign in UK history.” Shadow transport minister Andy McDonald stated that “never in my lifetime have I known any single individual so demonised and vilified, so grotesquely and so unfairly.” Corbyn was relentlessly slandered as an anti-semite and a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, constantly described as weak, wavering, vacillating, uncharismatic, unpatriotic. Unquestionably this hate campaign – which wasn’t by any means limited to the Tory press, but also reared its ugly head in the Guardian, the Independent and the New Statesman – had an impact.

Labour’s position certainly hasn’t been improved by the state of the parliamentary party, with so many MPs devoting the last four years to desperately trying to undermine Corbyn and oppose the shift to the left that has taken place under his leadership. This created a sense of chaos and disunity that was very easy for the media to leverage. This is very much the case in some Labour ‘heartlands’ seats like Barrow-in-Furness, where John Woodcock claimed that Corbyn “would pose a clear risk to UK national security as prime minister.” In Bassetlaw, John Mann – before resigning from the party and being made a baron – continuously called on Corbyn to step down. The outgoing MP for Dudley North, Ian Austin, called for a vote for the Tories. Needless to say, these three seats were all lost to the Tories.

In an election that was timed carefully to leverage ‘Brexit fatigue’, with a relentless propaganda campaign across the board, and with a hard-right Conservative Party that has been able to consolidate all public opinion from centre-right to all-out fascist, it was incredibly difficult for Labour to do well. We were up against the nexus of money and power, and the balance of forces didn’t allow us to break it.

Consolidating the left

All progressive opinion in this country has coalesced around the left Labour project led by Jeremy Corbyn. All reactionary opinion has coalesced around a hard right Conservative project inspired by Donald Trump.

Corbynism has put Labour back on the map as a meaningful political force, at a time when left-of-centre parties are in decline throughout most of Europe. The Corbyn leadership has uniquely combined a radical domestic economic policy with an internationalist, anti-war and anti-racist agenda. This agenda has proven hugely popular, as shown by the 2017 election results. The latest election is a significant setback, but that setback has taken place in specific circumstances that we need to understand.

Needless to say it hasn’t taken Tony Blair long to offer his opinion as to how Labour’s fortunes can be improved: “The takeover of the Labour party by the far left turned it into a glorified protest movement with cult trimmings, utterly incapable of being a credible government… Corbyn personified politically an idea, a brand, of quasi-revolutionary socialism, mixing far-left economic policy with deep hostility to western foreign policy. This never has appealed to traditional Labour voters, never will appeal to them, and represented for them a combination of misguided ideology and terminal ineptitude that they found insulting.”

Blair thinks that the situation demands a return to Blairism – quelle surprise. Yet this message won’t resonate with Labour’s membership, most of which joined the party after Corbyn’s emergence as front-runner for party leader in 2015. The problem with Blair’s take is that it’s a wilful misrepresentation of the facts. The policies of this “glorified protest movement” are both popular and credible. What kind of idiot wouldn’t support ending austerity, introducing a £10 per hour minimum wage, ending zero-hour contracts, reversing the privatisation of the NHS, nationalising water and energy, investing properly in healthcare and education, building hundreds of thousands of council homes, and creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in green energy and environmental conservation? To reverse Labour’s shift to the left in favour of pallid centrism would be to commit political suicide.

More insidious is the emerging ‘Blue Labour’ trend that is broadly accepting of an economic struggle against neoliberalism but that wants to push the party towards social conservatism and British nationalism. This narrative is exemplified by defeated Don Valley MP Caroline Flint’s complaint that the voters consider Jeremy Corbyn to be “too leftwing, unpatriotic, against the armed forces.” Blue Labour want to see the party drinking once more from Controls on Immigration mugs, rejecting internationalism, joyously waving the Union Jack and watching the Queen’s Christmas speech at 3pm on the dot.

This force says that Corbynism can’t win in the North and the Midlands because it’s too London-centric, too focused on ‘metropolitan’ values. This is a dog whistle. It means the Labour left is resolute in its fight against racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia; it means that Corbynism is internationalist and anti-war; it means that the current generation of Labour leadership isn’t willing to scapegoat immigrants, nor does it have fond feelings of nostalgia for the British Empire. It is precisely this profoundly important shift that has won Labour a wider support base than it has ever had, particularly among oppressed communities.

There’s been a loud chorus of voices, both on the left and right of the Labour Party, for Labour to reorient itself back to its ‘heartlands’ in the Midlands and North, for it to more specifically address the needs of the industrial (or post-industrial) working class outside the big cities. These workers are based in towns where manufacturing has largely collapsed and where reasonably well-paying and stable jobs in industry have been replaced by call centres, Amazon warehouses and Universal Credit. They’re often particularly susceptible to anti-immigration arguments because of the scarcity of dignified work (and often a lack of exposure to actual minority communities); that is, capitalist economics makes people more susceptible to capitalist propaganda. Many such towns have traditionally had relatively large numbers of young people in the armed forces (also related to the scarcity of dignified work), and therefore Jeremy Corbyn’s consistent opposition to Britain’s imperial adventures doesn’t go down well.

As history has shown time and time again, you don’t defeat backward ideas by pandering to them. In truth, Labour under Corbyn has already started to address the needs of these communities, most importantly pledging to end austerity, build council housing, reverse privatisation, invest in healthcare and education, and create hundreds of thousands of dignified jobs in the green energy sector. That platform represents a huge ‘reorientation’ to the needs of the entire working class. With time and patient work, and in an election that wasn’t fought almost exclusively over Brexit, that reorientation should win support. What Labour mustn’t do is to abandon those progressive parts of Corbynism that are supposedly toxic to the stereotyped Workington Man. Corbynism differs from ‘Old Labour’ specifically in its internationalism, in its opposition to wars, in its rejection of empire nostalgia, and in its consistent fight against racism, sexism and homophobia. This is what makes Labour in its current incarnation qualitatively different; this is what has mobilised the most progressive sections of the working class; this is what inspires people like Stormzy or Akala to vote for the first time in their lives. For those of us seeking to build a socialist, anti-racist and anti-imperialist mass movement, protecting and developing Corbynism is essential.

There are many thousands of people that campaigned for a Corbyn-led government, and millions of people that voted for it. We hoped we’d be able to fight for desperately-needed change with the help of a radical Labour government led by longstanding comrades of the left, anti-war, anti-austerity and anti-racist movements. That dream has died for the foreseeable future, but the struggle hasn’t; the main focus simply shifts back to the streets, communities and workplaces. What we’ve built is a radical movement of almost unprecedented scale in Britain: hundreds of thousands of people united around a platform that’s anti-neoliberal, anti-war, anti-racist and pro-planet. We must now engage in the campaigning, grassroots activism and political education we need to move forward. Consolidating this movement is the key question for now, as we prepare to resist a period of deep reaction.

The Tories have the parliamentary majority they require to deliver a hard Brexit and to comprehensively align Britain with US economic and military policy. There are massive fights ahead in relation to workers’ rights, protecting the planet, and resisting the racist divide and rule strategy that will inevitably accompany the general attack on the working class. Our movement must bounce back from the blow it’s suffered, and must put its experience and talents at the service of this struggle.

Vote Labour on 12 December

It would be unforgivably irresponsible not to vote Labour next Thursday, and not to persuade your friends, family and contacts to do the same. This will most likely be the most important election of our generation. Here’s what’s at stake:

THE PLANET. Labour has a clear commitment to cutting out greenhouse gas emissions. Not just rhetoric, but an actual Green New Deal that invests massively in renewables, electric vehicles, public transport, afforestation and research; a government that doesn’t pander to the fossil fuel lobby and that opposes resource wars; a government that can set an example for the other capitalist countries which have done so much to create the climate crisis and so little to fix it.

ENDING AUSTERITY. Austerity has led to literally tens of thousands of deaths since its introduction. It has deepened poverty and misery. Labour’s unambiguous commitment is to reverse austerity and to properly fund health care, education, housing, disability benefits, unemployment benefits, care for the elderly, and youth services.

BREXIT. Labour’s proposal for resolving Brexit is the only correct one: negotiate a reasonable Brexit deal with the EU that retains customs union membership and preserves workers’ rights; then put this deal to a referendum, with Remain as the other option. This is a fair and mature solution, and neither outcome is disastrous, unlike Boris Johnson’s hard Brexit, which will be a carnival of neoliberalism, deregulation and racism.

THE NHS. Only Labour will reverse the privatisation of the NHS and protect its future. Labour’s manifesto commitments include bringing all PFI contracts back in house, bringing outsourced services back in house, increasing NHS funding by over 4 percent per year, and establishing a publicly-owned generic drug company. By paying dignified wages (and by dropping disgusting racist immigration targets), a Labour government will be able to attract and retain more doctors, nurses and other health workers.

OPPOSING WARS AND EMBRACING MULTIPOLARITY. Boris Johnson is a puppet of Donald Trump, and can be expected to be a MAGA stooge. If the US goes to war with Iran, Tory Britain will join in. Tory Britain will join in the trade war on China (Johnson has already given the US a veto over Huawei’s involvement in Britain’s 5G infrastructure!). Tory Britain will most likely pull out of the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement. On the other hand, the Labour leadership and membership are against imperialist wars and in favour of a more balanced, multipolar world. A Corbyn-led Labour government can be reasonably expected to play a helpful role in global affairs.

ENDING HOMELESSNESS. Labour is committed to building at least 100,000 new council homes every year, to introducing caps on private rent, to ending rough sleeping within five years, to vastly increasing support for the homeless in the meantime, and to turning the council funding taps back on so that local councils are able to build homes and provided decent accommodation to those that need it.

FIXING EDUCATION, YOUTH SERVICES AND CHILDCARE. The Labour manifesto promises to: abolish university tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants; bring academies and free schools back into public control; provide up to six years of free adult education; provide 30 hours of free pre-school education a week from the age of 2; make free school meals available to all primary school children; rebuild youth services and re-open youth centres; invest in, and secure the long-term future of, libraries (800 of which have been closed down since 2010).

REDUCING POVERTY. Labour are pledging to introduce a minimum wage of £10 per hour for everyone aged 16 and over. The manifesto also promises to set up Universal Basic Income pilot. Labour will ban zero-hour contracts and mandate that all employees have full employment rights from day one on the job. Most importantly, Labour’s policy is to repeal all anti-trade union legislation, promote union membership, and strengthen union rights.

TACKLING DISCRIMINATION. The Tories have consistently played the divide-and-rule game in order to push their pro-rich agenda. If they get a majority and a hard Brexit, this will only get worse. They’ll deepen the hostile environment and make life increasingly miserable for immigrants and non-white people. Labour will end the hostile environment, will end ‘no recourse to public funds’, will introduce measures to educate people about the legacy of colonialism, will actively address institutionalised racism, will celebrate the contribution of immigrants to British society. Labour in power will champion the specific needs of women, of disabled people, of LBGT+ people.

And what’s the alternative? What happens if Boris Johnson gets a majority? We’ll be subjected to a Tory Brexit, meaning that Britain comes out of the EU customs union and goes running to the US for a free trade deal. That inevitably means more privatisation, more deregulation, more austerity, more attacks on trade unions, more attacks on workers’ rights. It will be the beginning of the end for the NHS. The hostile environment will get even more hostile. Meanwhile Britain will be pulled into ever-closer military and political alignment with the US – with potentially disastrous consequences for the planet in terms of war and climate change. In summary, everything will get worse.

Britain NEEDS a radical Labour government. What it’s offering isn’t a revolution, it isn’t socialism, it isn’t working class power and social ownership of the means of production. The current balance of forces simply doesn’t allow for that. But Labour’s manifesto represents a significant transfer of wealth and power from rich to poor. It’s a comprehensive package of reforms that will improve life for millions of people, will help save the planet, will contribute to the creation of a multipolar world, will empower millions, and will boost the unity, experience and fighting strength of working class and progressive forces in Britain.

Of course, the struggle doesn’t end with the elections. If we win, we’re going to be faced with an angry and desperate capitalist class that will stop at nothing to undermine us. There’ll be many more battles to be fought. But it’s far better to be in that situation than to not be in that situation! And whatever happens, in the course of struggle we’ll learn from our experiences.

So let’s go all out to get a radical Labour government.

A Left Labour government would weaken imperialism and work for peace

This article was originally published by Telesur English on 31 October, 2019.

A left Labour government, led by Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, would constitute an unprecedented opportunity for the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements. It would put our ideas at the heart of government, and in so doing could start to turn Britain into a force for peace and justice in the world. Furthermore it would provide inspiration to progressive and working class movements elsewhere in Europe and in North America, potentially setting off a snowball effect contributing to the construction of a more peaceful, multipolar world.

That is to say, there’s a lot at stake; a lot to lose if we make too many serious mistakes. We need to understand all the different forces at play, in their historical contexts and trajectories. This article focuses on the transition that’s taking place within the Labour Party.

What’s changed about the Labour Party? Why couldn’t this article have been written about Labour in the Ed Miliband era, or the Gordon Brown era, or the Tony Blair era, the Neil Kinnock era, or indeed the much-vaunted Clement Attlee era? What it comes down to is that, for the first time, Labour has a leadership which, in addition to being pro-working class and pro-poor, is solidly anti-imperialist, anti-war and anti-racist. And what’s more, these positions are backed up by the bulk of the membership.

The present leadership team has a well-known record of opposing imperialist wars. Corbyn, Abbott and McDonnell are among the very small handful of MPs that loudly stood up against war in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya and in Syria. Jeremy Corbyn has been a prominent member – Chair for several years – of the Stop the War Coalition since its inception in 2001. He’s been involved with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for decades. All three of them have supported progressive movements and governments in Latin America – in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Nicaragua. They’re longstanding supporters of Irish unity and self-determination – a key anti-colonial litmus test for the British left. As everyone knows, Corbyn was an energetic campaigner against apartheid in South Africa. The three of them are lifelong campaigners against racism. They oppose Nato, they oppose nuclear weapons.

What might this mean at a practical level?

Perhaps the simplest way to think about the practical implications of having veterans of the anti-war movement at the highest levels of government is to consider whether, when Britain was deciding whether to go to war against Iraq in 2003, it would have been better if the final decision lay with Jeremy Corbyn rather than Tony Blair.

This isn’t an entirely abstract thought. The Trump regime is ramping up the pressure against Iran at the moment. Whereas an Atlanticist hard-Brexiteering Tory government would fall in line without hesitation, it’s clear that a left Labour government would do everything it could to diffuse tensions, to avoid war, to oppose sanctions, and to bring all parties back to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It would work to reduce tensions with Russia. It would oppose regime change efforts in Venezuela. It would be much less likely to take aggressive action against Syria or Korea. It would pursue fair and balanced relationships with Africa, Asia, Latin America.

Environmental justice

It might not seem relevant, but it’s worth mentioning that the Labour Party also has excellent policies in relation to the environment, and the policies announced at the recent conference are among the most advanced in the world.

This is actually connected with issues of anti-imperialism, in that the climate crisis is something that’s been caused almost entirely by western imperialist countries, that have gone round the world finding, extracting and burning fossil fuels that they’ve used to power their own economic development.

For one thing, those natural resources – typically fossil fuels – are often secured by means of war or political destabilisation. It’s hardly a coincidence that Iraq, Libya and Venezuela have some of the largest known petroleum reserves on the planet.

But another aspect of climate crisis is that the areas of the world that are set to suffer most, indeed that are already suffering, from the climate crisis are the countries of the Global South – countries that have had practically zero role in creating the crisis in the first place. It’s estimated that people in the least-developed countries are 80 times more likely to be subjected to a catastrophic climate event than people in OECD countries.

So doing everything within our power to prevent climate breakdown is a debt we owe to the world, and it’s extremely positive that Labour has adopted the Green New Deal. In his speech at the party conference this year, along with a policy of making green technologies available cheap or free to the countries of the Global South – specifically referred to by John McDonnell in his speech to party conference this year as a form of reparations. It’s certainly hard to imagine the Tories or Lib Dems offering anything along those lines.

Not business as usual

All this is very much not business as usual for the Labour Party. The dominant ideology in Labour has always been what Lenin called ‘social chauvinism’ or ‘social imperialism’: pursuing reforms and improvements for workers at home whilst accepting and supporting imperialist domination abroad. Lenin described the basic economics of this as follows: “The capitalists can devote a part of their profits (from exploiting the world) to bribe their own workers, to create something like an alliance between the workers of the given nation and their capitalists against the other countries.”

In assessing Labour’s historical role, this analysis resonates. Labour governments have won some important gains on behalf of ordinary people in Britain, but they’ve also tended to side with the British ruling class when it comes to its militarist, imperialist role in the world.

We sometimes talk about the ‘Spirit of 45’, the Clement Attlee government of 1945 to 1951, as being the pinnacle of achievement for Labour in power. And certainly there were some hugely important steps forward in those years – in particular, the building of millions of council homes and the establishment of the NHS, which is something we should all be grateful for (and passionately defend).

But alongside all this, the Attlee government also co-founded Nato, developed nuclear weapons to threaten the Soviet Union, drowned the Greek revolution in blood, callously and cynically presided over the carnage that accompanied the partition of the South Asian sub continent, openly pushed a racist policy to expel the Arab population from Palestine, waged a vicious war against the independence movement in Malaya, and participated in the Korean War, that forgotten ‘peacetime’ episode the cost the lives of around 3 million Korean and Chinese people. Nor did this government show any inclination to stand up against racism; indeed Attlee looked into the possibility of having the Empire Windrush diverted to East Africa, describing the voyage as an “incursion”.

Roots of Labour imperialism

Why have the Labour Party and British labour movement tended to side with imperialism? We can conceive of this trend in terms of a softly-softly approach to improving the lives of British workers. Really it’s a form of class collaboration. We don’t want to scare the ruling class, we don’t want to affect anyone’s profits, we don’t want to dismantle capitalism, we’re happy for the rich to be ‘wealth creators’ and ‘job creators’, but we do want a few extras for the people we represent: the British working class, or at least the better-off sections of the British working class. That means going along with imperialism, with colonialism, with war, with the military-industrial complex, so there’s more profit in the system and therefore more that can be shared out.

This comes down to basic economics. Capitalism doesn’t wage war and engage in domination for the fun of it, or because of some strange psychopathology connecting wealth and violence. The quest for profits demands growth. Successful economies expand their operations, they capture foreign markets, they find more sources of raw materials, they find more sources of cheap labour. Slavery, colonialism, the genocide of indigenous peoples in the Americas and Australasia, policy famines from Ireland to India, the Opium Wars, can all be explained in terms of capital’s need to reproduce itself, to constantly grow bigger. And a lot of British workers have benefitted to some degree from all of that.

In more recent times, imperialism has tended to manifest itself primarily through the military-industrial complex, whereby capitalist states use war (and the production of weapons of death and destruction) in order to spend their way out of an economic crisis. In the midst of a crisis of overproduction, capitalism requires something to invest in, and what better than war? What a boost the Iraq War has been to arms manufacturers, military service providers, contracting companies – to Bechtel, to McDonnell Douglas, to Raytheon. Their shareholders are living well today.

So when Labour has sided with imperialism, it has been following a path of class collaboration. Thankfully, there is another path towards a better life for ordinary people, and that is class struggle, where we demand better conditions, better pay, better jobs, education, healthcare, housing, more democracy, more involvement in the running of our own lives. We don’t really care about capitalist profit. We’ll happily nationalise companies and whole industries if they can’t be run profitably and at the same time provide a decent standard of living to their workers.

And what’s more, we don’t sell out workers in other countries. Particularly in a world of globalised production, these are our allies. We don’t fall for divide-and-rule tactics, but rather we close ranks with national minority communities at home. The more unity we have, the stronger we are, the more effectively we can wage class struggle against capital.

This is the fundamental strategic divide. Class collaboration versus class struggle. And that’s the real significance of having a Labour leadership that opposes war, imperialism and racism, that opposes the military-industrial complex, that opposes nuclear weapons and NATO.

And it’s important to remember that these policies and ideas aren’t limited to the top leadership of the Labour Party. Labour’s membership has increased over 2.5-fold since 2015. It is the largest political party in Western Europe. And anti-imperialist, anti-war, anti-racist policies are popular at grassroots level. Even many of the trade unions are starting to shift in the direction of class struggle, and that means shifting in a direction of internationalism, breaking out from the ideological umbrella of the ruling class and taking up a position of solidarity with the workers and oppressed peoples of the world.

So there’s some convergence between the leadership and the membership of the Labour Party in relation to anti-war and anti-imperialist ideas.

Why’s this shift happening now?

Part of the reason for the shift described above is that the ‘postwar consensus’ has broken down under the weight of the neoliberal onslaught since the late 1970s. The balance of power has moved towards the ruling class, which has has been pursuing free market fundamentalist economic policies that have created an ever-wider gap between rich and poor.

It’s not entirely coincidental that this economic offensive gained momentum in the same period that the Soviet Union and the European people’s democracies were starting to stagnate. Workers in the capitalist countries had won concessions such as free healthcare, social housing and decent pay; they fought for these things and we rightly celebrate that fight, but one of the reasons the ruling classes gave way on some of these issues was the looming threat of the example provided by the socialist world.

The Soviet Union and European people’s democracies, for all their contradictions and flaws, had comprehensive social insurance systems, full employment and a high quality of education. They were able to eradicate malnutrition and homelessness, and in so doing solve certain problems that even the most advanced capitalist society had never – and still hasn’t to this day – been able to solve. So this dynamic affected the balance of forces within capitalist society. In the period of decline and collapse of European socialism, the owners of capital became more confident and aggressive in pursuit of their own interests.

The share of GDP that goes to the working class is now lower than it was in the 1930s. The rich get richer every year, but conditions for the working class are getting worse all the time. In Britain, life expectancy is actually starting to fall. Austerity, unemployment and underemployment have put millions of people into poverty, missing meals, living in unhygienic and inadequate housing. There are currently around a million people in this country working zero-hour contracts. They literally don’t know, week to week, if they’ll be able to pay their rent or put food on the table.

To a considerable degree, moving from a position of class collaboration towards a position of class struggle reflects the fact that, increasingly, class collaboration isn’t working. If the unions are getting more militant, if hundreds of thousands of people are mobilised to get involved with Labour and to support Corbyn’s anti-war platform, this reflects changing economic and political realities.


There’s a lot to play for. The anti-war and anti-imperialist movements in Britain are closer to power than they’ve ever been. Of course there are problems, there are contradictions, there are weaknesses. Labour’s MPs are still largely the same as they were before Corbyn became leader. Some of these MPs are old-fashioned social democrats who want a slightly bigger slice of the pie for workers; actually those are the better ones. Far too many Labour MPs are Blairite neoliberals who don’t identify with workers at all. We face their continued hostility, along with that of the billionaire media.

Nonetheless, we’re in a very promising situation and there is a political trajectory within Labour that we need to defend and consolidate. Hopefully this dichotomy of class collaboration versus class struggle is a helpful way to conceptualise what’s going on in the Labour Party and the wider progressive movement.

Brexit is an attack on the working class

This post was updated on 7 April to reflect the updated situation and to include some discussion on the impact of Brexit on Ireland.

The date set for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, 29 March 2019, is now in the past. The Brexit deadline has been extended, and is likely to be extended again. MPs can’t agree on what a deal should look like, only that the deal presented by the government isn’t very good. Labour and the Tories are in negotiations with a view to finding common ground on a softer Brexit, but at the time of writing we still don’t have much clue what the outcome will be. Will Theresa May finally be able to get her deal through parliament? Might we leave with a ‘Norway-plus’ type of arrangement, retaining membership of the Customs Union and potentially the Single Market? Might we leave without a deal, leading to probable economic crisis and social chaos? Or could there be a lengthy postponement, or could the whole thing be cancelled?

Absurdly, much of this uncertainty comes down to seemingly insurmountable divisions within the Conservative Party, and to the government’s prioritisation of its own petty interests over those of the British people – not to mention a desperation on the part of the British ruling class to keep Jeremy Corbyn as far as possible from 10 Downing Street.

Of course, those of us on the left can’t control what ruthless Tory Brexiters do. What we can and should do is develop a reasonable, coherent strategy of our own; a strategy with the power to unite a wide array of forces with the critical mass to defeat the anti-democratic and anti-popular machinations of the Tories and their chums on the extreme right. In so doing, we can avert disaster and strengthen the position of the working class.

A united strategy needs to be based on a detailed and realistic understanding of what Brexit is and what class forces it represents. As it stands, this understanding is largely absent. The ‘remain’ side of the debate has been dominated by liberal/centrist voices, including the likes of Tony Blair, Chuka Umunna and others trying to leverage the political crisis to weaken Corbyn. The bulk of the non-Labour left – including the Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Party, Counterfire, the Socialist Workers Party – has been promoting a ‘Lexit’ line based on a combination of misunderstanding and wishful thinking, and in some cases with a dose of chauvinism. Even within the Labour left and the trade unions, there’s a reluctance to really articulate a coherent progressive vision (or systematic opposition to Tory Brexit) owing to worries about alienating people in pro-Brexit Labour-voting constituencies.

Without this understanding and the strategy that flows from it, we’re sleepwalking into a nightmare that will strengthen the most reactionary elements of the ruling class and that could set back progressive forces for a generation.

This article will attempt to show that the Brexit project serves the interests of a tiny finance-capitalist elite; that it represents an attack on working class conditions and unity; that it strengthens rather than weakens imperialism; that it will lead to greater inequality and poverty; that it is, in fact, a neoliberal scam that could have a devastating impact on the poorer sections of British society.

Neoliberalism on steroids

From the point of view of the millionaires who funded the leave campaign, the purpose of Brexit is to allow business to escape the public protections the EU provides. (George Monbiot)

Millions of people voted for Brexit. Their motivations were many and complex – including an amorphous idea of “taking back control”, old-fashioned xenophobia and anti-immigrant scapegoating, as well as a healthy middle finger to the smug status quo so amply represented by then-prime minister David Cameron. Very few of them voted for neoliberalism or deepening austerity; very few thought that the important thing was to reduce restrictions on big business such that it can exploit more ruthlessly and generate ever more fabulous profits. As Fintan O’Toole points out: “for most of those who voted for it, Brexit means a ‘return to the nation state’. But for many of those behind it, there is a very different ideal. They use this language because it is the only one that is politically viable. But for them the exit from the EU is really a prelude to the exit from the nation state into a world where the rich are truly free because they are truly stateless” (Heroic Failure: Brexit and the Politics of Pain, Apollo, 2019).

For many left-wing supporters of Brexit, the whole point is to break with neoliberalism, not strengthen it. They see the EU as the standard-bearer of free-market fundamentalism in the present era, forgetting that, within Europe, Britain was the first country to enthusiastically venture into the brave new world of massive deregulation. In the early 1980s, it was Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Bob Hawke that led the neoliberal charge. Indeed, it took quite a long time to convince continental Europeans to pick up the baton. While Britain participated in the process of European integration through the development of the European Economic Community (EEC) and then the EU, this participation was always reluctant and partial, precisely because of British capital’s distrust for the relatively softer, more regulated version of capitalism pursued on the continent. Nothing could reconcile Thatcher and her friends to the concept of a “platform of guaranteed social rights”.

Even today, after a quarter of a century of deepening alignment with the new economic orthodoxy, France and Germany are far less ‘business-friendly’ environments than Britain (both charge around 30 percent corporation tax, for example). While the UK ranks 7th globally in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Germany ranks 24th and France 71st.

The EU mandates a level of protection for workers, it restricts off-shoring and tax avoidance, and it attempts to regulate the activities of the big banks. When the EU proposed a ‘Tobin tax’ on financial transactions in 2013, it was the British government that led the opposition to anything that limited the profits of the mega-rich. Boris Johnson, then London’s mayor, was viciously opposed to any increase in the EU’s regulatory reach: “We cannot allow jobs, growth and livelihoods to be jeopardised by those in the EU who mistakenly view financial services as an easy target.”

Jeremy Corbyn was 100 percent correct when he pointed out that “people in this country face many problems, from insecure jobs, low pay and unaffordable housing to stagnating living standards, environmental degradation, and the responsibility for them lies in 10 Downing Street, not in Brussels.”

‘Taking back control’ doesn’t mean assigning any new powers to the ordinary people of Britain. It means reducing EU regulations on British business. The idea isn’t even to reassign these powers to Whitehall but to get rid of them altogether. In a world where multinational corporations and financial institutions are too big to be subjected to any meaningful pressure by national governments like the UK, freeing themselves from supranational regulatory bodies like the EU means freeing themselves from oversight. It’s not just ‘small government’, it’s no government.

Few have articulated this fundamentalist Thatcherite vision more clearly than Nigel Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and president of the fanatically pro-Brexit ‘Conservatives for Britain’ pressure group. Writing in the Financial Times in September 2016, he complains bitterly that while “the Thatcher government of the 1980s transformed the British economy … through a thoroughgoing programme of supply side reform, of which judicious deregulation was a critically important part”, this process was limited by the “growing corpus of EU regulation”. Now, however, “Brexit gives us the opportunity to address this; to make the UK the most dynamic and freest country in the whole of Europe: in a word, to finish the job that Margaret Thatcher started”.

The Brexit engineers are involved in the construction of a Thatcherite neoliberal paradise that will bring fabulous profits to a few capitalist buccaneers, and ever-increasing misery to those at the bottom of society.

A boost for the Atlanticists

Brexit was not, to my mind at least, a choice between the EU and ‘independence’, but a choice between staying part of a flawed union or choosing to deepen ties with the American Empire and continue the ‘Americanisation’ of the British economy. If Britons wish to learn what a US-style healthcare service looks like, they are free to talk to any poor American (Akala, Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire, Two Roads, 2018).

There’s a widespread assumption that the British ruling class is overwhelmingly opposed to Brexit. This is not the case; the ruling class is deeply divided on Brexit. The line of division is essentially between a relatively European-aligned section of British capitalism and a relatively US-aligned ‘Atlanticist’ section. This reflects deeper economic and strategic divisions: the Atlanticist ruling class is more connected to finance capital, to the military-industrial complex, and to Big Oil; its political orientation is closer to an openly aggressive, racist Trump-ism than to the relatively more sophisticated approach of Obama or Merkel. The last time this division was manifested so starkly was in 2003, when the British ruling class was split as to whether to join the US war on Iraq or to support the French/German position against the war.

The leading pro-Brexit politicians – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davis, Liam Fox, Dominic Raab, Iain Duncan Smith and Steve Baker – are all noted Atlanticists. Liam Fox for example has consistently maintained a pro-US orientation, including strongly favouring close military alliance. His charity, Atlantic Bridge, exists to promote close coordination between the Conservative Party and the hard-right Tea Party nutcases in the Republican Party. Boris Johnson is a wholehearted supporter of Making America Great Again, close with both Donald Trump and Steve Bannon. Trump, Bannon and John Bolton are all fond supporters of the Brexit project, as is Rupert Murdoch. The multi-millionaire financiers of the Brexit campaign – people like Arron Banks, Peter Hargreaves, Peter Cruddas, Stuart Wheeler, Michael Hintze, Martin Bellamy, Jon Moynihan and Robert Hiscox – all favour closer links with the US. They are certainly not motivated by any overarching desire to weaken imperialism or empower the working class.

Brexit is a key component of Trump’s ‘America First’ strategy. It’s instructive that the Heritage Foundation, a highly influential neoliberal think-tank in the US and a major force in the Trump administration, has lobbied for Brexit over the course of over a decade on the basis that it will strengthen the US’ hand in the global economy and help to weaken the EU. British political analyst TJ Coles gives a helpful summary of Heritage’s changing attitude towards the EU: “The Heritage Foundation describes America’s initial interest in a United Europe as a bulwark against the Soviet Union… As there is now no Soviet Union, there is no need for a United Europe. A regulated European Union, which erects barriers to US products and services (such as labels identifying genetically-modified foods and regulations against privatisation) is bad for America’s corporate profits. After the financial crisis of 2008, Europe’s central command in Brussels started regulating financial markets in an effort to prevent another crash. The Heritage Foundation report analyses America’s efforts to use Britain as a ‘Trojan Horse’ to push through state deregulation in Europe. As Britain was not powerful enough to do this, America felt that a weakened Europe would better serve its financial and trade interests” (The Great Brexit Swindle, Clairview, 2016).

Leaving the EU Single Market, Britain will not suddenly become a major economic player in its own right; its economic strength and geographic location make that impossible. With the imposition of tariffs between Britain and its biggest trading partner, Britain will be forced to look elsewhere for a major trade deal. That means, first of all, a ‘free trade agreement’ with the US, the terms of which will be dictated by the latter. As Tom O’Leary writes, “the terms of negotiations between the UK and US will reflect the real relationship of forces between the two economies. The US economy is approximately 6.5 times greater than the UK economy… For the Trump negotiators, there are ten economies in the world whose GDP is greater than or more or less equal to that of the UK (on a PPP basis). It will be the UK which is desperate for a deal, not Trump… Any new deal is unlikely to compensate for the lost trade with the EU and will come at a significant price, in terms of workers’ rights, environmental protections, consumer safeguards and the privatisation of UK public services.”

Deepening division of the working class

It is sometimes easier to blame the EU, or worse to blame foreigners, than to face up to our own problems. At the head of which right now is a Conservative Government that is failing the people of Britain (Jeremy Corbyn, April 2016).

Polling has consistently shown that anti-immigration sentiment was the one of the key motivating factors in the Brexit referendum. A fairly typical study found that nearly three-quarters of Leave-voters were worried about immigration levels. Brexit campaigners shamelessly leveraged this latent xenophobia, with Nigel Farage’s infamous ‘breaking point’ poster being a particularly nasty example, along with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove repeatedly using Turkey’s aspiration of EU membership as a pro-Brexit scarecrow. As Aditya Chakrabortty pointed out, “One didn’t need especially keen hearing to pick that up as code for 80 million Muslims entering Christendom.”

This type of message was particularly effective, since it was essentially a reiteration of the racist language of the Tory mainstream. A study by Kings College London found that media coverage of immigration issues “more than tripled during the ten-week Brexit campaign, rising faster than any other political issue and appearing on 99 front pages, compared with 82 about the economy. Most of these front pages (79) were published by pro-leave newspapers.”

Although Theresa May campaigned (very half-heartedly) to remain in the EU, she didn’t feel strongly enough about it to counter anti-immigrant propaganda, instead choosing to suppress multiple studies showing that immigration doesn’t lead to lower wages. Plus of course she was the architect of the ‘go home’ vans, the hostile environment, and the chief culprit of the Windrush debacle. The Remain campaign was mainly defensive on the issue of immigration, choosing not to promote an anti-racist narrative. Of the prominent Remain supporters, it was only Jeremy Corbyn and his close circle in the shadow cabinet – along with the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru – that actively defended immigration. When they did so, they were either ignored or ridiculed by the press.

Fintan O’Toole writes that the Brexit vote “depended on an ostensibly improbable alliance between Sunderland and Gloucestershire, between hard old steel towns and rolling Cotswold hills, between people with tattooed arms and golf club buffers” (op cit). This unlikely convergence was mediated by decades of anti-immigrant rhetoric; of old-fashioned scapegoating that blamed immigrants for the problems of capitalism.

Survey data indicates that a significant majority of the British population would like immigration numbers to be reduced, presumably believing – incorrectly – that immigration adversely impacts quality of life. This prejudice contributed more than any other single factor to the Leave vote; there’s absolutely no chance a majority would have voted for Brexit were it not for the promise of reduced immigration. This was recognised by Britain’s ethnic minority communities, which invariably voted in large majorities to remain in the EU. The racism of the Brexit campaign is demonstrated with appalling clarity by the staggering increase in hate crime incidents in the weeks following the referendum.

Taking charge of the Brexit negotiations, Theresa May made it clear from the beginning that her priority was to restrict freedom of movement. Brexit means Brexit means xenophobia.

This xenophobia is not of course exclusively connected to Brexit; it was leveraged by the Brexiters in order to win the referendum, but it has a broader political purpose for capitalism: preventing unity of a multicultural multi-ethnic working class. The specific form of racism surrounding the Brexit campaign also chimes with cultural changes in Britain in recent decades. The brutal, flagrant racism that was meted out in previous decades to Irish, Jews, African Caribbeans, Asians and others is no longer socially acceptable in the way it was. Instead we have what Ambalavaner Sivanandan described as ‘xeno-racism’ – “it is racism in substance, but ‘xeno’ in form. It is a racism that is meted out to impoverished strangers even if they are white.” Those immigrants “coming over here and taking our jobs” are nowadays less likely to be Asians and Caribbeans, but rather Romanian and Polish – not to mention Nigel Farage’s asylum seekers and Boris Johnson’s Turkish EU citizens. Brexit has managed to both leverage and deepen this racism, and in so doing has strengthened the hand of the most reactionary elements of British society.

Brexit will make workers poorer

Brexit will harm large sections of the British economy, and the cost of this damage will inevitably be borne by the working class, since the owners of capital can more easily shift their investments to those areas that aren’t affected. As TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady notes: “Other EU countries buy huge amounts of British goods and services. But if it’s harder to sell what the UK makes in Europe, big global firms are likely scale down their operations. That would result in big job losses, especially in sectors like manufacturing where half of exports go the EU.” These manufacturing jobs, threatened by Brexit, are typically paid significantly better than their service sector equivalents, so “even if jobs lost were replaced, we’ll be left with worse jobs on lower wages.”

The EU is Britain’s largest trading partner, constituting 44 percent of exports and 53 percent of imports. The TUC estimates that over three million jobs in Britain are linked to trade with the EU. Outside the EU single market, it will be more difficult to sell products and services made in Britain and to buy products and services from elsewhere. In the short term, this puts essential imports such as food and medicine at risk – Britain imports around 40 percent of its food, for example, and the vast majority of this comes from the EU. In the longer term, it leads to reduced productivity and reduced participation in the international division of labour. Tom O’Leary writes that, post-Brexit, “the economy will be operating behind a series of tariff and non-tariff barriers as others protect their markets. All of these will make the economy less competitive and will increase costs.” This cannot but have a detrimental effect on living standards.

EU funding in Britain will end immediately with Brexit. This will have a disproportionate impact on the poorer regions of the UK, particularly in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Even more significant would be the effect on public finances due to businesses closing or moving away from Britain, as well as from reduced immigration. The Economist puts the case bluntly: “Britain exports old, creaky people and imports young, taxpaying ones. More than 100,000 British pensioners live it up in sunny Spain; meanwhile, up to 100,000 working-age Spaniards brave the British cold… The government’s fiscal watchdog suggests that by the mid-2060s, with annual net migration of about 100,000, public debt would be roughly 30 percentage points higher than if that figure were 200,000. Taking back control comes with a whopping bill.” Beyond fiscal revenue, reduced immigration means a lack of people to do important work. For example, the staffing crisis in the NHS is expected to get much worse with Brexit.

For the myriad flaws of the EU, membership has brought some crucial benefits to British workers. As Jeremy Corbyn has pointed out, “there was no limit on working time for workers in Britain until the Working Time Directive, which also provided for rest breaks. Our rights to annual leave were underpinned by the EU too; we would not have a right to 28 days’ leave without that membership.” EU regulations mean that part-time workers (predominantly women) have equal rights with full-time workers; that a million temporary workers have the same rights as permanent workers. Freedom of movement means that these terms can’t (legally) be undercut within the EU – so ending freedom of movement would significantly deepen the ‘hostile environment’ in terms of labour rights for immigrants.

In the same 2016 speech, Corbyn pointed out that the most ruthless exploitation in Britain is not the result of EU neoliberal policy; in fact most EU countries are far better than Britain in terms of workers’ rights. “If we want to stop insecurity at work and the exploitation of zero hours contracts why don’t we do what other European countries have done and ban them? Zero hours contracts are not permitted in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Poland and Spain.”

Outside the customs union, Britain will need to negotiate major trade deals. The most prominent of these is with the US, which will be well placed to exact horrific terms, including opening up much more of the NHS and education system to privatisation. As TJ Coles writes, “a Britain unshackled from Europe would strengthen US-UK relations and weaken the EU in preparation for a regulatory assault by the US” (op cit).

Post-Brexit trade deals will almost certainly mean opening up the British market for dangerous produce. As it stands, the EU bans the import of US-produced items such as hormone-treated pork and beef, genetically-modified cereals, and chlorine-washed chicken. US capital and its Tory allies are desperate to put an end to these restrictions, and Brexit gives them the perfect opportunity.

Brexit means worse conditions for workers. More casualisation, more privatisation, less regulation, less union power, fewer restrictions on big business. This is exactly why a significant section of the British ruling class is so keen on Brexit, and why the rest of us should resolutely oppose it.

EU state aid rules are not the problem

The proponents of Lexit, both within and outside the Labour Party, have built their case primarily on the idea that EU regulations regarding state aid to industry will stand in the way of a programme of state-led investment and nationalisation. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has unfortunately lent credence to this theory.

There are three major problems with this. The first is a simple practical matter: Jeremy Corbyn is not the prime minister, and Labour is not in government. Efforts to change that situation are welcome and necessary, but it is very likely the Tories that will be implementing Brexit, and the Brexit they have in mind has nothing whatsoever to do with nationalisation and the redistribution of wealth. Quite the opposite. However problematic the EU state aid rules might be, the British post-Brexit government is highly unlikely to replace them with anything better.

The second problem is that Labour’s ‘Soft Brexit’ wouldn’t release Britain from EU state aid rules. The Labour leadership has repeatedly stated that its Brexit vision includes continued membership of a comprehensive customs union with the EU. The chances of the EU signing up to such a deal whilst allowing exemptions on its core elements are approximately nil.

The last obvious problem with the idea that EU state aid rules get in the way of public ownership is that it’s not actually true. Britain’s relentless privatisation over the course of the last 40 years has been pushed by successive British governments; it has been cooked up in Whitehall, not Brussels. In fact, as TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes notes, “Britain spends far less than the EU average on state aid. If Britain were to match the proportion of spending of Denmark it would mean an extra £24 billion a year; if Britain matched Hungary, we would spend an additional £34 billion.”

George Peretz QC, a barrister specialising in public law and tax issues, writes that, “as far as nationalisation is concerned, EU law raises no objection. Anyone who knows the continent knows that in most countries most operators in the sectors mentioned by Corbyn [postal services, water, railways and banks] are state-owned… Many member states have been able to provide large subsidies to their rail and postal operators to ensure high quality universal services… What the state aid rules prevent is ill-targeted aid, such as the money repeatedly thrown down the black holes of national flag carriers or tax exemptions given to large multinational companies in return for locating in the state concerned.” In short, the EU state aid rules would have little or no impact on the progressive programme of state-led investment envisaged by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.

Britain leaving the EU will not weaken imperialism

Another Lexit idea is that the EU – an organisation composed of capitalist countries – will be diminished by the UK’s departure, and therefore imperialism as a whole will be weaker. This rather ignores the fact that Britain was an imperialist country before joining the EU and will remain an imperialist country once it leaves. Because the UK will, for reasons described above, lean more towards the US (which by any reasonable definition represents the most aggressive form of imperialism on the planet in the present era), the balance of forces between imperialist blocs will be shifted somewhat, but not in a way that benefits the masses of the world seeking to free themselves from neocolonial domination.

Laughably, some of the leading Brexiters have talked about Britain’s departure from the EU paving the way for the establishment of an ‘Empire 2.0’ built on stronger trading links within the Anglosphere and the Commonwealth. This is the stuff of sheer nostalgic fantasy. In truth, as pointed out by Tottenham MP David Lammy, “leaving the EU will not free us from the injustices of global capitalism: it will make us subordinate to Trump’s US.” Britain is not a major player in the global economy any more; Brexit has come a century or so too late for these nutty delusions. If an ‘Empire 2.0’ were to come into being, “its centre would not be in London but in Washington. It would be an American, not a British empire” (O’Toole, op cit).

In foreign policy terms, Brexit stands to push Britain towards a more aggressively reactionary position. Ministers are already talking about how they’ll be able to ramp up sanctions against Russia, for example. Aligned to Trump’s US, Britain would be under intense pressure to join the sanctions regime against Iran, to support US policy on trade with China, and to scale back participation in global environmental cooperation. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has made it all too clear that “Brexit represents an opportunity for Britain to boost its global military standing in response to the threats posed by Russia and China”.

From a strategic anti-imperialist point of view, a relatively stronger EU and relatively weaker US would constitute a more favourable balance of forces; this much was recognised by Chinese president Xi Jinping in 2015: “China hopes to see a prosperous Europe and a united EU, and hopes Britain, as an important member of the EU, can play an even more positive and constructive role in the promoting the deepening development of China-EU ties.” The subtext is clear enough: a US-dominated unipolar world is the most dangerous possible scenario.

There is also the profoundly important issue of Ireland to consider. Brexit poses a serious threat to the Irish economy in both north and south, to the Good Friday Agreement, and to the wider cause of Irish unity and self-determination. The peace process has turned the hard border into a soft border, with an increasingly integrated economy and a much-reduced presence of the British armed forces on the streets of the north. These streams have fed into a powerful (albeit slow and winding) river headed towards peaceful reunification.

Brexit will inevitably affect economic cooperation between north and south, and, if the hard-Brexiters get their way, could well dismantle all the progress of the last two decades. A land border and customs checks would be extremely disruptive and would contravene the terms of the GFA. This would lead to rising dissatisfaction and, very likely, increased sectarian tensions. With a coalition of the Democratic Unionist Party and the Conservative and Unionist Party in power in Westminster – probably with an even more nutty right-wing leadership than at present – we could well see an increased presence of the UK armed forces, under the direction of an emboldened, militantly unionist government that wouldn’t hesitate to employ any measure in defence of the union. Various commentators have noted that a no-deal Brexit could mean a return to direct rule. There’s nothing anti-imperialist about that.

Remain and reform

None of this is to claim for the EU any progressive nature. The precursor organisation to the EU was formed as a bulwark against Soviet socialism and to represent the interests of US-dominated western capitalism in Europe. The need to provide European workers with an alternative to socialism meant that the European Economic Community tended to promote a relatively benign, social-democratic form of capitalism. With the decline and fall of the Soviet Union and its Central/East European allies, the neoliberal consensus seeped out of the Anglosphere and into the heart of Europe. As Fintan O’Toole writes: “Being angry about the European Union isn’t a psychosis – it’s a mark of sanity. Indeed, anyone who is not disillusioned with the EU is suffering from delusions. The slow torturing of one of its own member states, Greece, was just the most extreme expression of a desire to blame the debtor countries alone for the great crisis that hit the Eurozone in 2008” (op cit).

However, as noted above, the neoliberal consensus was not invented by the EU, and the EU is not responsible for imposing it on Britain. Within the EU, leftists in Britain are better placed to fight free-market fundamentalism across the continent. In the words of Manuel Cortes: “Solidarity means standing shoulder to shoulder with our sisters and brothers in socialist parties across the EU demanding a Europe for the many as an integral part of building a better world.” This was precisely the meaning of Corbyn’s “Remain and Reform” slogan. There are plenty of examples of a progressive agenda being successfully advanced within the EU; indeed, the various protections for workers currently embodied in EU regulations were won through continent-wide class struggle.

Where do we go from here?

The progressive project represented by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party could provide the basis for an unprecedented unity in this country. The NHS and the welfare state are among the best things the British people have created. We are well placed to expand and innovate in these areas, along with green energy, poverty alleviation, inequality reduction and scientific research; we can develop a global outlook that embraces multipolarity and opposes war. But any prospects for a successful socialist-oriented government in Britain would be seriously undermined by a Tory Brexit that would be accompanied by economic crisis, deep social divisions and a foreign policy designed by John Bolton.

It would be much better to remain in the EU than to proceed with this hard-right scam. It is the duty of all socialists and progressive people to do everything within their power to avoid a “hard Brexit” or a “no-deal Brexit”. Preferably this means remaining in the EU, but if this isn’t possible, we should work towards Brino – Brexit in name only. Labour has taken some steps towards that sort of position, pushing for a comprehensive, permanent customs union with the EU. However, the EU negotiators have repeatedly made clear that any customs union would be conditional on maintaining free movement of labour. The next critically important step for the Labour leadership and the trade unions is to unambiguously accept freedom of movement. That shouldn’t be difficult, because freedom of movement is a fundamentally positive thing. It benefits both immigrants and non-immigrants. The numbers show again and again that immigrants are net contributors to the economy. Indeed, our economy is heavily reliant on immigration. With freedom of movement, immigrants coming here from the EU are protected by EU-wide labour legislation which means they can’t be ruthlessly exploited at the levels British capital would like. If those protections were taken away, it would drive down wages and conditions for everyone. And besides the economic aspect, there is the basic political principle of promoting maximum unity of the working class. Any sheepishness or caginess about this issue feeds into a growing, dangerous trend of racism and xenophobia.

We should recognise the Brexit project as a multi-pronged attack on the working class, and we should take all necessary measures to defend ourselves against it.

Book review: Simon Hannah – A Party with Socialists in it: a History of the Labour Left

A slightly modified version of this article first appeared in the Morning Star on 03 March 2018.

Simon Hannah’s recently-released book ‘A Party with Socialists in it: a History of the Labour Left’ provides a timely, concise and very readable account of the ongoing struggle between left and right within Labour.

The title is inspired by Tony Benn’s comment that “the Labour Party has never been a socialist party, although there have always been socialists in it”, and the text charts the attempts of those socialists to promote their vision over the course of the past 118 years. This fight has been taken on by numerous parties, groups and factions, including the Independent Labour Party, the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist League, the Socialist Fellowship, the Young Socialists, Militant and the Socialist Campaign Group. Hannah details how such efforts have in the past been frustrated by ‘pragmatic’ right-wingers, who until recently dominated the commanding heights of the party.

The author also describes the various Labour governments, led by Ramsay MacDonald (1924, 1929-31), Clement Attlee (1945-51), Harold Wilson (1964-70, 1974-76), James Callaghan (1976-79), Tony Blair (1997-2007) and Gordon Brown (2007-10). Analysing these administrations without rose-tinted glasses, Hannah demonstrates that they tended to controlled by the right and were focussed more on keeping British capitalism happy than on winning meaningful gains for the working class. Even the much-celebrated Attlee government was generally committed to the capitalist consensus, and its historic gains (the establishment of the NHS and the building of thousands of council homes) were deeply compromised by its enthusiastic support for the creation of Nato and its role in the genocidal war on Korea.

Studying the long, tortuous and often torturous journey of the Labour left, it becomes increasingly clear that socialists within and around Labour have never been in a better position than they currently are. Previously, even when leftists have held key leadership positions, they have never managed to win control of the party machine and the support of the unions. As Ralph Miliband once bitterly noted, “the ‘broad church’ of Labour only functioned effectively in the past because one side – the right and centre – determined the nature of the services that were to be held, and excluded or threatened with exclusion any clergy too deviant in its dissent.” (Socialist Advance in Britain, 1983)

Today’s situation is therefore unprecedented. The membership has grown from 150,000 in 2014 to almost 600,000 today, and these new members are largely progressive and committed. Furthermore, the party is becoming more democratic and responsive to the membership – unlike in the Kinnock and Blair years, when constituencies, branches and activists were treated with contempt.

Meanwhile, key trade unions have shifted to the left in response to austerity and the betrayals of Blairism. Most unions have therefore thrown their weight behind Corbyn and his team. This is an important development, as the unions have tended to be a force of centrist ‘moderation’ within Labour, resisting the more radical, anti-racist and anti-imperialist views put forward by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott.

The surprisingly good showing for Labour in the 2017 general election has forced most Labour MPs to stop (or at least pause) their attempts to get rid of Jeremy. The left now has a majority on the National Executive Committee and is establishing its leadership at the constituency and branch levels. For the first time, socialism is becoming hegemonic within Labour.

Crucially, the left also has a large activist base. Hannah makes the important point that Corbyn was well-known in the wider progressive movement long before the 2015 leadership election, and that the camaraderie that had developed between left Labourites and the thousands of anti-war and anti-austerity activists has its roots in the work of the Stop the War Coalition and the People’s Assembly, among other groups and campaigns.

This all adds up to an opportunity that is too good to throw away.

The book would be improved by the removal of a couple of left-sectarian shibboleths (Soviet socialism was “bureaucratised and killed” by Stalin in the mid-1920s, apparently, and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty was subjected to a “red scare” led by the Momentum leadership around John Lansman). These notwithstanding, it is a very readable and well-researched history, and could hardly be more relevant for the political moment we are living through and participating in.

Ten reasons you should vote for Jeremy Corbyn to be prime minister

  1. He hates racism of all kinds. Actually genuinely hates it, not just pretending. He’s done more against it than any of us, working to support oppressed communities, taking asylum cases to the Home Office, campaigning tirelessly on behalf of the victims of racism, xenophobia and religious discrimination.

  2. He hates war. Again, he’s done more against it than the vast majority of us. Wouldn’t it be good if the person making the final decision about whether to bomb a country was the same person that can be heard in Trafalgar Square shouting “No war for oil”?

  3. He wants to save the NHS. Not just because you can’t talk openly about wanting to privatise the NHS, but because he genuinely believes in excellent free healthcare available to all. Labour’s manifesto pledges will roll back the privatisation measures of the last few decades and will ensure proper funding for the health service. This is not unimportant. Millions of people rely on the NHS. If it goes down the toilet, we’re all screwed.

  4. He is a believer in social housing and has a proud track record of working to support the homeless. Labour has pledged to build half a million council homes over the course of the coming parliament. That alone is something worth voting for, if you are someone that cares about the lives of ordinary people.

  5. He has always supported comprehensive free education. Ending tuition fees, restoring maintenance grants, restoring the EMA, increasing state school funding, free school meals for all primary school kids: these are major democratising measures. Wealthy people will get a decent education regardless, but working class people can’t learn if they’re not getting enough to eat, or if their classes are overcrowded, or if they’re in “sink schools”, or if they can’t afford to go onto higher education. The privatisation and suffocation of the education system is a means to maintain power in the hands of the elite, so fighting back against it is essential.

  6. He hates imperialism and likes socialism. He has demanded that the brutal history of the British Empire be taught in our schools. He has worked to end British occupation of Ireland and Israeli occupation of Palestine. He energetically campaigned against apartheid. He has long been a leading member of Cuba Solidarity, Venezuela Solidarity and Palestine Solidarity.

  7. He thinks it’s a good idea to make rich people and big businesses pay more taxes to support a solid welfare state and investment. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s obviously sensible and good. And the fact that this idea has now become mainstream – basically as a result of the work Jeremy and others have done – represents a significant advance in the class consciousness of British (probably more accurately: English) people. It’s the start of rolling back neoliberalism and austerity.

  8. He has a far more sensible approach to opposing terrorism than the Theresa Mays and Tony Blairs of this world. He understands that Britain is deeply involved in the spread of sectarian terror, through its wars in Iraq and Libya, through its sponsorship of regime change in Syria, through its extensive connections with (and arms sales to) Saudi Arabia and other reactionary states. Making Britain safe from terrorism means overhauling British foreign policy.

  9. He loves music, art, sport and theatre and strongly believes in funding and promoting them so that all children have the opportunity to get into them. This is crucial in terms of developing a new type of British culture and identity that is diverse, vibrant and forward-facing.

  10. He’s actually a really nice guy. A small thing, but it would be so unusual to have a PM that wasn’t an unpleasant person.

So go out and vote. If not for yourself, do it so that children can go to school and uni, so that old people can turn their heating on this winter, so that Syrian civilians aren’t murdered by British-financed terrorists, so that homeless people get a chance at a better life, so that disabled people get the support that allows them to lead a dignified life, so that unemployed people get work, so that workers can unionise and fight for their rights, so that we can all live in a slightly better, more just, more tolerant society. It’s not socialism, but it’s an awful lot better than what we’re going to see if Theresa May gets her landslide.

Jeremy and his team will face endless obstacles in power, we all know that. The ruling class will fight with everything that it’s got to prevent the implementation of a progressive platform. But much better to have people who actually want to do a good job, and that we can put pressure on to come good on their commitments. Go vote!

Immigration is a blessing for Britain. Don’t let xenophobic myths determine how you vote in the general election.

Tories resorting to xenophobia

It’s difficult to imagine an election campaign less imaginative and effective than the one the Conservative Party has been waging. Conversely, Labour’s campaign has been both convincing and compelling. Even in the eyes of many Labour MPs, Jeremy Corbyn was “unelectable and undesirable” just a couple of months ago, and yet, with just a few days to go until polling day, Labour are closing the gap on the Tories. When the election was announced, the YouGov poll had the Conservatives on 44 percent to Labour’s 23 percent. The most recent YouGov poll (at the time of writing), has the Conservatives on 42 percent and Labour on 38 percent, and there’s a very real chance that Theresa May will lose her majority. The days of Corbyn’s unelectability are well and truly over, to such a degree that even the Guardian has temporarily put its Blairism on the shelf and come out in support of Labour.

In a state of shock, the right-wing press and Tory campaign managers are pulling out all the stops to demonise Jeremy Corbyn and prove that he doesn’t care about the British people: he met with the IRA to try and push forward the peace process in Ireland; he has consistently voiced his reluctance to kill millions of people with nuclear weapons; he is “a pacifist relic of the 1970s, in hock to the trade unions”; and his shadow Home Secretary seems to perfectly well understand that Britain is systemically racist. Worst of all, he is not fanatically anti-immigrant, which apparently means he doesn’t want to protect British jobs and services.

The charge on immigration has been led by Rupert Murdoch’s flagship tabloid, The Sun. Corbyn is accused of “plotting to allow thousands of unskilled migrants to enter Britain.” Even worse, he has been outed for having made a speech in 2013 in which he described a racist anti-immigration crackdown as, well, racist. Shockingly for some, it seems that “Mr Corbyn has no intention of reducing the current sky high levels of immigration”.

Thankfully the reliably strong and steady Theresa May is here to save the day: “I want to ensure we are controlling migration, because too-high uncontrolled migration puts pressure on our public services, but it also lowers wages at the lower end of the income scale. I want to ensure we control migration. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party want uncontrolled migration.”

On this basis, the Tory election manifesto pledges to reduce net immigration to under 100,000 a year. A Conservative government will “work to reduce asylum claims” rather than doing the right thing and accepting more refugees; it will increase the minimum earnings required for a family member visa; and it will raise the Immigration Health Surcharge for foreigners using the NHS from £200 to £600.

By contrast, Labour “will not offer false promises on immigration targets or sow division by scapegoating migrants because we know where that leads.” The Labour manifesto (which clearly represents a compromise between the central leadership – particularly Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn, both longstanding campaigners for immigrant rights – and more right-wing elements) calls for “fair rules and reasonable management of migration”, without setting any target. The manifesto commits a Labour government to getting rid of the family member minimum income visa threshold, and to reinstating the Migrant Impact Fund. It promises that “Labour will not scapegoat migrants nor blame them for economic failures.”

Is immigration bad for Britain?

That immigration has shattered social solidarity, driven down living standards, fuelled job insecurity and imposed a completely intolerable burden on the civic infrastructure” has become received opinion for a large part of the British population. This is hardly surprising, given that it’s a viewpoint constantly reinforced by the media and politicians. However, it’s worthwhile taking a more serious look into whether it’s actually true.

Does immigration drive down wages? Inasmuch as there’s a simple answer to this question, it’s “no”. Diane Abbott puts it well: “Immigrants in and of themselves do not cause low wages. Predatory employers, deregulated labour markets and weakened trade unions – they cause low wages.”

At the most simplistic level of analysis, it’s obviously true that an increased workforce can have the effect of reducing wages through the usual action of supply and demand – higher supply of labour leads to reduced price of labour (wages). However, immigration also changes that balance in a different direction, by widening the market for the product of labour (goods and services), thereby increasing labour demand. Economists are almost unanimously agreed that this positive effect far outweighs any negative effect. Alex Tabarrok, professor of economics at George Mason University, writes: “Immigration unleashes economic forces that raise real wages throughout an economy. New immigrants possess skills different from those of their hosts, and these differences enable workers in both groups to better exploit their special talents and leverage their comparative advantages. The effect is to improve the welfare of newcomers and natives alike.”

The overall effect of immigration is to increase wages and create jobs. Giovanni Peri, labour economics expert at the University of California, argues that the average US worker earns around $5,000 more than they would have done were it not for the immigration to the US since 1990. “As young immigrants with low schooling levels take manually intensive construction jobs, the construction companies that employ them have opportunities to expand. This increases the demand for construction supervisors, coordinators, designers, and so on. Those are occupations with greater communication intensity and are typically staffed by US-born workers who have moved away from manual construction jobs. This complementary task specialisation typically pushes US-born workers toward better-paying jobs, enhances the efficiency of production, and creates jobs.”

At the individual level, there are no doubt cases where an immigrant labourer is willing to work for a lower wage than their British counterpart and thereby deprives the latter of a job, but these cases are relatively rare, and the solution is to demand decent wages and conditions for all workers. In general, where wages go down and jobs disappear, this is a function not of immigration but of casualisation, economic deregulation, de-industrialisation, ruthless profiteering, mechanisation and other macroeconomic factors.

And what about public services? Is immigration placing an intolerable burden on the housing, education, health and benefits systems? Again, the answer is no. There is now a fairly large body of research on the fiscal impact of immigration, all of which says roughly the same thing: immigrants are generally net contributors to the British economy, paying more into the system in taxes than they take out by accessing public services… In 2009 the Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM) at University College London found that migrants from the A8 countries of central and eastern Europe who joined the EU in 2004 were 60 per cent less likely than native-born Brits to claim benefits, and 58 per cent less likely to live in council housing.”

Public services are suffering because they receive insufficient investment, not because of excessive demand from people born outside the UK. Incidentally, if there were greater investment in services, there would also be more jobs – good, socially useful, dignified ones at that.

Philippe Legrain contributes another argument which is more subtle but equally important: the diversity of skills, opinions, traditions and needs that immigrants bring is a significant contributor to economic growth.

It is precisely because newcomers are different that they are so beneficial, since their differences tend to complement local needs and conditions. They may have skills that not enough Britons have, like medical training or fluency in Mandarin. They may have contacts that open opportunities for trade and investment as the centre of gravity of the global economy shifts east and south. They may be more willing to do gruelling jobs that most British people with higher living standards, education levels or aspirations spurn, like picking strawberries or caring for the elderly. They may simply be young and hard-working, a huge bonus for an ageing society with a shrinking local workforce and increasing numbers of pensioners to pay for. Having moved once, they tend to be more willing to move again, enabling the job market to cope better with change. And their diverse perspectives and experiences help provoke new ideas, while their dynamism tends to make them more entrepreneurial than most.

In advanced economies like Britain’s, sustained rises in living standards come from finding new and better ways of doing things and deploying them across the economy… Innovation mostly emerges from creative collisions between people – and two heads are only better than one if they think differently. A growing volume of research shows that groups with a diverse range of perspectives can solve problems – such as developing new medicines, designing computer games and providing original management advice – better and faster than like-minded experts…

Thus immigrants make the economy more dynamic – and far from putting unbearable pressure on jobs, public services and housing, they help improve the locals’ lot. Newcomers create jobs as well as filling them – when they spend their wages and in complementary lines of work. Polish builders create jobs for British architects, supervisors and suppliers of building materials. Overall, migrants tend to boost local wages, precisely because of those complementarities. Falling real wages in recent years are due to the crisis, not immigration.

As Richard Osborne puts it in his book Up The British, “Immigration and refugees can quite conceivably be seen as the motor of cultural and intellectual energy in the British experience over the centuries”.

In summary, immigration is profoundly valuable for British society, and to significantly reduce it would be to commit economic suicide. Even the Economist, hardly a bastion of progressive political opinion, notes that, according to calculations by the government’s fiscal watchdog, reducing annual net migration to 100,000 (as per the Tory manifesto pledge) would increase public debt by the mid-2060s. “Taking back control comes with a whopping bill.”

The only way forward is to reject all forms of racism and xenophobia

It’s hardly surprising that anti-immigrant views are so widespread: media and governments in the capitalist countries have been systematically scapegoating immigrants for decades, and now the economic crisis has people fighting over scraps. That’s how xenophobia has become ‘populist’. The mainstream media consistently exaggerates the extent and the negative effects of immigration. Gary Younge points out that “three-quarters of Britons think immigration should be reduced. That’s hardly surprising. They think migrants comprise 31% of the UK’s population; the actual number is 13%. If you think something’s twice the size it really is, you’re bound to find it frightening.”

The purpose of this scapegoating and scaremongering is obvious enough: to distract people from the real reasons that things are getting worse. Karl Marx, analysing the “immigrant problem” in England around 150 years ago, painted a very vidid – and eerily familiar – picture:

Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the ‘poor whites’ to the Negroes in the former slave states of the USA. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.

Racism and xenophobia create division, and division prevents the working class from waging effective class struggle – at a time when the ruling class is waging that class struggle relentlessly. As Tom O’Leary points out, “in the OECD economies the proportion of workers in part-time employment has risen from 5.4% in 1960 to over 20% in 2015. Union densities were 35.6% in 1975 and had fallen to less than half that, just 16.7% by 2014. It is not workers outside the advanced industrialised countries who have lowered wages in the G20 countries. It is the capitalist class in the G20 which has robbed workers of a greater proportion of the value they create”.

A Labour government will undoubtedly be a boost for all workers; it will demand more tax from the wealthy and invest it in public services, job creation and infrastructure. It can also be relied upon to be less awful than the Tories on the question of immigration. However, the Labour Party is still an arena for the fight against racism and xenophobia, as many of its high-profile MPs (including Tom Watson and Yvette Cooper) have joined the idiotic chorus demanding stricter immigration controls.

We should be struggling wholeheartedly against ruthless exploitation, against deregulation, against an economy that is absurdly skewed in favour of finance capital, against zero-hour contracts, against unemployment, against tax-dodging, for investment, for a living wage, for council housing, for more funding to the health and education services, against every form of oppression faced on a daily basis by workers. Division along the lines of race, religion or nationality weakens that struggle, and that is precisely its utility to the capitalist class. Without unity, we are consigned to a state of permanent defeat.

Jeremy Corbyn the “snivelling IRA fanboy”: empire nostalgia in the British general election

Theresa May must have thought that calling a snap general election was a political masterstroke. A landslide victory promised to give her government some legitimacy and shore up support for a hard Brexit that emphasised xenophobia over economic sense. Furthermore, a Tory landslide would make it very difficult for Jeremy Corbyn to continue as leader of the Labour Party, and therefore could well put an end to Corbyn’s project of turning Labour into a vehicle for the interests of ordinary people. Such an outcome could kill meaningful parliamentary opposition for a generation.

Unfortunately for May’s plan, Labour is waging an extremely effective campaign. A newly-invigorated party, with an engaged membership and the most progressive election manifesto Britain has seen in decades (if not ever), is campaigning up and down the country and getting its message out to millions of people.

Unable to answer the Labour resurgence with popular policies (unsurprisingly, the Tory manifesto offers a toxic cocktail of austerity, deregulation, attacks on the working class, and commitment to a foreign policy designed in Washington by Team Trump), the right-wing press has resorted to one of its favourite techniques: trying to smear Corbyn and his colleagues on the basis of being associated with the IRA, Hamas, Cuba, Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad, Hugo Chávez or whatever other bogeyman.

Over the last couple of days, Corbyn’s longstanding support for the aims of Irish republicanism has been the subject of much scrutiny in the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Times and the Telegraph. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have been labelled as “snivelling IRA fanboys”. The same media outlets have also attempted to turn Diane Abbott’s comment of 30 years ago that “every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us“ into a major scandal.

This sort of thing is comfortable home ground for the right-wing media. They can’t say much against renationalising the railways, or ending tuition fees, or building hundreds of thousands of homes, or implementing a £10 per hour minimum wage, or increasing funding to the NHS – so instead they repeat the tired narrative of Corbyn and his allies “siding with Britain’s enemies” and being “soft on terrorism”. The Tories meanwhile get to paint themselves as the patriotic party, the party the defends Britain’s foreign policy interests; the party that will Make Britain Great Again, if you will.

Corbyn’s longstanding support for Irish reunification and for the end of British domination over Ireland – along with his stand against imperialist wars, his opposition to NATO, his support for Palestinian self-determination, and his apparent unwillingness to kill millions of people in a nuclear strike – gets to the heart of a major cultural conflict that lies just beneath the surface of Britain’s collective political consciousness.

Britannia rule the waves

An awful lot of people continue to suffer under the delusions of a Rule-Britannia ideology that lets people believe in the inherent superiority of their nation, whilst diverting their attention from the fact that the economy is in a mess, communities across the country have been devastated by unemployment, de-industrialisation and inequality, the cost of housing is absurd, and the welfare state is being hollowed out.

This empire nostalgia is a problem of frightening dimensions; one that must be solved if Britain is going to find its place in a modern, multipolar world. Polls show that most British people still have a favourable view of empire. Former Prime Minister David Cameron famously said “we should be proud of our empire rule”. Last year, Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox called for an “Empire 2.0”. Therefore it’s not too difficult to weaponise this potent mix of ignorance and reactionary nationalism against Corbyn, McDonnell and Abbott – awful people that want to take away the one thing that makes us feel good about ourselves: our natural superiority over other nations, religions and races.

A national discussion about the legacy of empire is long overdue. Just as we quite rightly expect that Germans today will acknowledge the extent of the crimes committed by the Nazi government in the 1930s and 1940s, we should also expect British people to understand and acknowledge the appalling crimes committed by the Empire. Britain was a major player in the conquest of the Americas and in the transatlantic slave trade, which generated much of the vast wealth that allowed Britain to conquer India and much of Africa. Millions died in India as a result of imperial policy-driven famines. Thousands of Kenyans were rounded up in concentration camps and tortured. Britain fought wars for its right to freely export opium (produced by forced labour in India) on the Chinese people. From South Africa to Kenya to Jamaica to India to Ireland to Iraq to Palestine, opponents of British colonial rule were imprisoned, tortured and killed.

The truth about British rule in Ireland

Among British people there is shocking ignorance in relation to British rule in Ireland. The Empire started in Ireland, with English rule going back to the 12th century. English/British rule in Ireland has been cruel, brutal and exploitative, and Irish people fought courageously against it from the beginning. Perhaps the episode that best encapsulates the nature of Britain’s treatment of Ireland is the Great Famine of the late 1840s, in which at least a million died and millions more were forced to emigrate. This was an artificial famine, in that there wasn’t an absolute shortage of food but rather a failure of the one crop that the local population subsisted on (potatoes constituted around 60% of Irish food consumption). Other crops that didn’t fail continued to be exported for the purpose of generating profits in London. The colonial authorities could have intervened to stop the famine but they chose not to do so, committed as they were to the idea that English money is worth more than Irish life.

It was clear by the early 20th century that British rule in Ireland couldn’t continue indefinitely. In the general election of 1918, Sinn Féin won by a landslide in Ireland. The Irish stepped up their armed struggle for independence, and in 1921 Britain was forced to grant partial independence to the southern 26 counties, which became known as the Irish Free State. However, Britain insisted on maintaining the six counties in the north – where it had established a pro-union majority – as part of the United Kingdom.

In the six counties, London continued to rule with a heavy hand, enforcing a system of privilege for the loyalist community and systematic oppression of the nationalist community. Those in the north that have fought against the injustice of British rule have been met with prison, torture, extra-judicial killings, human rights violations and massacres – most famously Bloody Sunday.

Towards a post-Empire identity

Such is the cold hard truth about the British Empire. It doesn’t sit very well with the British self-image of benevolence, dignity and ‘fair play’, but we must understand it and face up to it. Britain needs to find its place in the world and develop a new sense of identity built on justice, diversity and inclusiveness, along with a foreign policy that abhors war and colonialism and treats other nations as equals and partners. This chimes with the type of modern Britain that millions of decent people want to see.

It’s a big project that will take a long time to complete, but a government led by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott and John McDonnell would at least be an important step in the right direction.