demonstration with EU flags Anti-Brexit 'People's Vote' march in London, June 23 2018. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The left must face up to the scale of the crisis and respond robustly, writes Jonathon Shafi

The situation feels strange. The political system is in peril. This is not an overstatement. The government is putting out stories of preparations of a nuclear bunker to house 3,500 emergency staff in case of No Deal. We should be advancing. Instead, we seem to be desperately trying to shore up the system, seek its maintenance, and protect its operations.

Too many seem to think that once this infrastructure is saved, well-crafted progressive policy can make its way through neoliberal institutions without open confrontation with them, and the system writ large. So many too are forgetting that should a hint of order become established that these institutions – the state, the financial system, the transnational apparatus – will necessarily become more authoritarian. The turning of Brexit into a EU vs UK left/right culture war has been the ultimate failure of analysis. There is barely any critique of the EU whatsoever, nor any attempt to decipher the meaning and material roots of the Leave vote beyond tabloidism.

As such, in many ways we have slipped on building on the key lesson of 2016: that there must be an independent left. And that it must be countervailing to ruling class organisations.

Paul Mason – who I count as a friend and who I very much respect – has in fact done a U-turn in his comments to the Progress conference after the 2017 GE, where he said explicitly that Labour will not be a pro-Remain, stop Brexit party. When he said this he knew exactly why this was important. And yet now he is arguing precisely for such a course of action. More than that, he is openly attacking anyone with a critical position on the EU.

Note too how often people on the left are arguing for a second referendum without even attaching such a demand to the need for a General Election. The argument is not being put in a way that says: Corbyn should argue for a “People’s Vote” as part of his election package. No – they are saying that a “People’s Vote” need not have a party win such a thing in a manifesto.

That in fact we will relieve pressure on the General Election front rather than intensify it.

That we should become an undefinable part of the political class.

That we should provide the foot soldiers for a campaign run by millionaires – who despite Iraq and austerity – decided that only now will they mobilise their resources in a campaign.

Claims will be made that this is untrue. But reality is concrete. It is not the Stop Brexit Love Corbyn movement who will benefit from a new referendum – but the assembled forces of the extreme centre and the far-right.

This general picture tells you about the ideological climate on the left. Leadership has even been ceded to the likes of Iraq war enabler Alistair Campbell. We shouldn’t be surprised at the TUC. But signing a joint letter with the CBI – literally the bosses’ organisation, responsible for maintaining the subjugation of labour – reflects a deeper weakness on the left on this question. Caroline Lucas too has turned into a pillar of the liberal order – Brexit has in fact de-radicalised the Greens in England. Meanwhile the SNP – at a time of acute crisis – are pushing a “People’s Vote” rather than independence, and are behaving like a centrist Westminster Remain party.

The point is this: the crisis is not going away. All pleading that we might go back to normal – when normal is the bedroom tax and bombing – is an inherently conservative impulse. And in any case it is not possible.

Now is a time for radical ideas, to promote a new democracy, and new institutions. To revive the internationalism of the left against the fake internationalism of transnational capital. We are lagging behind the pace of the crisis. And that needs to change.

Jonathon Shafi

Jonathon Shafi is organiser of the International Socialist Group (ISG) Scotland. He has played a long-standing role in anti-cuts and anti-war in Glasgow and a founder member of the Radical Independence Campaign.