Photo: Flickr/Descrier Photo: Flickr/Descrier

We build on the schism in capitalist politics resulting from Brexit divisions by putting anti-racism grounded in working class politics front and centre argues Kevin Ovenden

The FT columnist Martin Wolf last week likened the Brexit divisions in Britain to a civil war.

He mentioned the English Civil War and what he called a civil war between capital and labour during much of the 20th century – contained, as he remarkably conceded, by the “sense of national unity” brought by the two world wars.

Brexit is not the actual civil war of the 17th century. But there is certainly a faction fight in ruling class politics in Britain over the EU question – as some of us on the left said would happen if there were a Leave vote in the referendum.

Most British capitalists, or capitalists operating in Britain (particularly in the City of London), remain committed to staying in the EU, even if in all but name. So do the permanent state in Britain, the Bank of England and all the other institutions.

It is not a schism within the capitalist class in that sense, though there is a small minority of capitalists for Brexit.

It is more a schism in *capitalist politics*, expressed in the Tory party. And it is a reflection of the crisis of governance predating the Brexit vote and leading to the ill-starred decision by David Cameron to hold a referendum in the first place.

It finds expression in the Labour Party because for the first time in living memory it is led by people who the capitalist class have grave doubts about in running a government along broadly their interests.

The schism is at the top, but each side has to try to win mass political support in society. So it colours mass politics and wider social questions. That’s especially so in the London media, where the ever more propagandistic exchanges between the Leave and Remain wings resemble very much a faction fight.

On the radical left there was common ground – at least formally – in the runup to the referendum, despite people taking different positions over how to campaign and vote.

The common ground was that the radical left had to maintain its independence from both wings of Tory, ruling class politics (which included the Labour In campaign) and try to fight for its own principled positions.

That’s critically important now. Not only because there are efforts to corral the left politically – principally from the Remain majority of ruling class opinion and its extensions.

But also because there is growing antagonism along the other axis of what Wolf called a “civil war”: between capital and labour, and in party electoral terms between a crisis-wracked Tory party and a left-led Labour Party.

The left needs to build upon that antagonism and answer both wings of the ruling class faction fight, and the Brexit question on the basis of radical change for working class interests.

One example is the spat over George Soros funding one of the many (and well funded) ruling class operations to overturn the referendum outcome and coming under attack from some right wing Brexiters with rhetoric either laden with anti-semitic innuendo or refusing explicitly to repudiate such.

The left is pressured to declare that it somehow “defends” Soros or is with the liberal media against the right wing media – when both wings are using this, like anything else, for their own politicking.

Why can’t the left say that it is opposed to the billionaires, all of them – as Sanders does – and their attempts to buy the political outcomes they want: on both sides. We put working class interests first and, as a central part of that, we point out the playing with racist imagery and will ensure it does not gain traction in the working class movement?

There are more concrete things to say, of course – but this surely is the general way we need to approach these things.

What we cannot allow to happen is racist innuendo from one side and self-serving outrage from the other side to move us from a core position of opposing the billionaires who fund both sides and their rigged setup.

We have to ground anti-racism on independent working class politics and anti-capitalism – seeking above all to undermine racism through the methods of the class struggle between capital and labour, the “civil war” (according to Martin Wolf… and others) that we want to fight.

Kevin Ovenden

Kevin Ovenden is a progressive journalist who has followed politics and social movements for 25 years. He is a leading activist in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, led five successful aid convoys to break the siege on Gaza, and was aboard the Mavi Marmara aid ship when Israeli commandoes boarded it killing 10 people in May 2010. He is author of Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth.