There was an old Soviet joke that the future remains certain but the past is always changing. And while the future for Scotland’s own dominant party the SNP must always be independence, it seems not only the present path towards it but even the past, of the party and even the reasons for which it says it wants separation, are a set of ever changing goalposts. Who now would want to be in Alex Salmond’s “arc of prosperity” between Iceland and “Celtic tiger” Ireland, with their neoliberal success stories? And whatever happened to “once in a generation”, or the strange claim that separatism was all about doing the left wing Scottish Labour Party a favour?
But perhaps the most egregious of all airbrushed pasts is that which passed between the, for now, still Teflon SNP and the most hated man of the moment, Donald Trump. Trump may often seem more like a comic book character than a real life politician, and his relations with the SNP have definitely been retconned as thoroughly as his fictional fellow billionaires Lex Luthor and Batman.
To hear them talk now, you’d think the SNP were in the vanguard of proud Scotia, sending Trump homeward to think again. Its true that they eventually fell out over his extreme tilting at offshore windmills anywhere near his Aberdeenshire golfcourse. But this belated stand for their own building project looks less impressive when contrasted with the stand they didn’t take for the people affected by Trump’s vanity project, in fact the stand they took against them. Which not only let Trump in, but in its shameless pandering was probably what gave him the idea he could dictate energy policy as well in the first place.
While Jack McConnel’s New Labour administration in its last days did make Trump a Business Ambassador for Scotland and also back the very early stages of his golf plan, a fact the SNP now like to hide their own government’s actions behind, it was the recently elected SNP government that not only courted and vocally supported him, but even inserted themselves into local planning issues on his behalf. When Aberdeenshire Council rejected his plans to build on land that included some of the most unique sand dunes in Europe and was an environmentally protected site, it was the Scottish Government that overruled them and gave Trump the green light. They rationalised that the promised investment and jobs outweighed the environmental concerns, but almost a decade later the economic benefits have never materialised.
Having run roughshod over the Scottish environment, Trump then ran roughshod over the Scottish people and embarked on a campaign to drive out undesirable locals. Farmer Michael Forbes became the symbol of local resistance as Trump pulled out all the stops to kick him off his land and knock down his house on the basis that it was would be an eyesore for the kind of top 1% clientele he wanted for his luxury golfcourse. The fact it was on Forbes’ own land and not Trump’s didn’t matter, from Trump’s perspective it being in the line of view was cause enough for a compulsory purchase order and even, in 2011, to fence off a piece of land to which Forbes had the title deeds. Trump called the pretty average farmhouse a “slum”, while his son Donald Jr oozed contempt for Forbes and his ordinary lifestyle, seemingly oblivious to how he looked, in the revealing film You’ve Been Trumped.
Eventually Forbes was popularly elected Glenfidditch Whiskey’s Top Scot in honour of his struggle against Trump to keep his land. Donald Jr grudged him even that, musing that Andy Murray was surely a much more important Scot! And Alex Salmond, Forbes’ constituency MP and MSP as well as First Minister, still refused to apologise for taking Trump’s side in the attempt to railroad one of his own constituents.
This despite the fact that by then, in 2012, the windfarm clash was brewing, and Donald Jr was later to try and do his own rewriting of history casting Salmond as an “enemy” from 2009 onwards, when he says his father declined a request to back the release of Abdel-Basset al-Megrahi in return for no windfarms at the golfcourse. And while the SNP now claim “no one could have known” what kind of racist, even proto-fascist, figure Trump would become when they were dealing with him, by 2012 Trump had already entered the political arena with his vile and absurd “birther” campaign against Obama, yet Salmond was still siding with him against Forbes.
In fact his whole attitude and actions towards the ordinary people of Aberdeenshire conclusively puts the lie to Trump’s then image as a harmless, relatable funnyman of American reality TV culture. Let alone, and much more so, to his new persona as a crusading man of the people. In fact he stands exposed as one of the most nakedly contemptuous opponents of the little guy in the whole 1%. While his greed and avarice may be unremarkable for someone in his position, and his flaunting of his wealth in his hotels, casinos and TV show is often done in a way that’s more entertaining than alienating, his visceral dislike for the poor or even averagely-off for not being rich stands exposed by his actions and recorded attitudes in Scotland. The people of America should take note.
However his place as one of the most unacceptable faces of the super-rich should not make his association with the SNP any more surprising. In fact the SNP’s relations with and courting of such people is more reminiscent of Tony Blair than anything to do with real Labour or the current Labour Party leadership. It was the homophobic billionaire Brian Soutar who largely bankrolled the SNP and the official Yes campaign. He had experience of referendums, you see, as the man who privately ran his own as part of his campaign against the abolition of Thatcher’s vile homophobic Section 28.
And in the wake of the Madeleine McCann phone hacking revelations, while the rest of the British political class shunned Rupert Murdoch, some bravely taking a lead like Ed Milliband and others forced to for a time like David Cameron, Salmond struck up a new and golden phase of his own relationship with Murdoch. For a time it looked as if the serial patriot was certain to come out for a Yes vote and in the end his papers only pulled back because it was clear Yes were very unlikely to win. But he still managed to vent his vendetta against Britain in general and Ed Milliband’s Labour in particular with the Sun backing the SNP in Scotland, with Nicola Sturgeon portrayed as Princess Leia, even as the same paper in England backed the Tories “to keep out the SNP”. And in this election, in the week that the Sun refused to acknowledge the Hillsborough verdict on its front page, it did find space on the front page for another endorsement of the SNP, this time with Nicola as Captain Kirk!
And if it’s no surprise then that Salmond and Trump fell in with each other, it’s also no surprise and no particular credit to either of them that they eventually fell out. Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter famously quipped that her father and Winston Churchill got on so badly because they were too alike, and the similarities between Trump and Salmond, Trumpism and the SNP, are actually uncanny. Both Trump and Salmond have a barnstorming barnum style of political campaigning that can actually be very attractive and effective when compared to the robotic, managerial style that mainstream politicians on both sides of the isle and on both sides of the pond have taken in recent decades. Both, to their credit, opposed the Iraq war at the time and can now claim prescience over the likes of Hillary and Blairite New Labour (with which the SNP like to conflate Labour as a whole).
And both channel legitimate anger at a political system that doesn’t even attempt to work for ordinary people into a politics of false hope, misplaced blame and division. Build a wall, or create a border. And always make the southern neighbour pay! The rage, ugly passions and extreme nationalism on show at the Trump rallies is actually very similar to the dark underbelly of the vibrant and civic Yes campaign that many of us who took a different view came to be more acquainted with than we’d have liked during the referendum. And while the fraudulent, as well as extreme right wing, nature of the Trump campaign should be obvious, a victory for Yes, while not a far-right vote in the same way, also could not possibly have delivered what it promised. In fact it could have led to austerity max as the oil price plummeted and the Sterling zone gave a Tory England the same power over a fragile startup economy as Germany has over Greece.
The correct response to the SNP and to Trump is also parallel. It is not to put people back in the box of politics as usual and pretend that the alienation and pent up frustrations that have been released are illegitimate figments of the imagination, but to direct the anger at its real source in a broken political establishment and economic model rather than at scapegoats, while bringing working and ordinary people together rather than driving them apart.
And such a fine sounding thing isn’t just an idle dream either, but eminently pragmatically possible. Bernie Sanders running as a proud socialist in the USA is way ahead of Trump in the polls, and if he were the Democrat nominee all projections are that he’d crush the billionaire blowhard in a landslide. Hillary Clinton, who stands for the establishment capture of progressive politics that in this country was represented by Blair and killed Labour for a time allowing the SNP their opening, is still projected to beat Trump but more narrowly. Not only is Clinton scandal ridden, with any further scandal threatening to hand the White House to Trump by default, her brand of establishment, pro-war politics has no chance of winning over anyone considering a protest vote for Trump, while Bernie’s campaign eloquently makes the pragmatic case for socialist, real Labour politics as the antidote to the far right and political delusion of all kinds.
That’s why also in Scotland real Labour, Corbyn Labour, is required if we are to keep our country together as we not that long ago voted to do. The Tories say they stand for the 55% and claim to be a better opposition to the SNP, but in fact their percentage is the 24% of the electorate who voted for this vile and inept government, elected in much of England on what a right wing supporter in the neocon Standpoint magazine admiringly called a “nasty anti-Scottish campaign”. Thankfully only a rogue poll put the Tories in second place, as nothing could be worse than the polarisation of Scottish politics for the next five years between separatism and support for the likes of the bedroom tax.
But Labour must also take note of the pragmatic case for Corbynism that Scotland more than anywhere else makes. Be Sanders, not Clinton, and we can overcome the Scottish friends of Soutar, Murdoch, and Trump.
There has emerged a new and ugly McCarthyism in our midst that if not confronted will ensure the ignominy and disgrace of the left in this generation and for generations to come.
Instead of fuelling a political witchhunt of supporters or sympathisers with communism, the modern variant of McCarthyism is fuelling a campaign to identify, smear and demonise opponents and critics of the state of Israel with the charge of antisemitism. The specific focus of this new McCarthyite campaign is the Labour Party. Even more specificially, its focus is the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party.
The resulting media storm over incidences of alleged and actual antisemitism by a tiny number of Labour Party members, uncovered over the past few weeks, is conspicuously absent when it comes to the existence and activities of Labour Friends of Israel, a faction within the Labour Party committed to building and offering political support for Israel, which by way of a reminder is a racist, supermacist, apartheid state founded on a programme of terrorism and the mass ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people between 1946-48. This ethnic cleansing and theft of Palestinian land has continued in the decades since, accompanied by illegal military occupation, home demolitions, siege, the theft of natural resources, and the periodic mass murder and slaughter of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, utilising the most advanced weaponry in the world today.
This aggressive witchhunt of ‘anti-semites under the bed’ we are witnessing is less to do with confronting a rising tide of antisemitism within and without the Labour Party, as important as that would be if it comprised the threat some are attempting to argue it does, and more to do with delegitimising solidarity with the Palestinians and their ongoing struggle for human rights, self determination, and liberation from the most sustained oppression of any people in modern history, outlined in the previous chapter.
It is the fact that Israel’s brutal subjugation of an entire people for the crime of daring to exist is allowed to go on year after year, with the support and connivance of the political mainstream in the UK and throughout the West, which leaves us in no doubt that those who have extended themselves in exposing and rooting out antisemitism are complicit in that subjugation.
Labour Friends of Israel counts among its members many of the party’s most senior politicians, officials, and donors. We are talking about the great and the good of a Labour Party establishment, people for whom Israel represents a beacon of democracy in a region beset by extremism and barbarism. The problem with this narrative, of course, is that Israel is a state whose democracy – democracy, that is, for the chosen few – itself rests on foundations of extremism and barbarism. This particular brand of extremism and barbarism, however, is packaged as modernity and security.
What these supporters of Israel are really responding to is not the recrudescence of the fascism-cum-1930s they would like us to believe is upon us. What they are responding to is the growing support for BDS and its success in highlighting the grotesque injustice that describes the day to day reality for the Palestinians, and in breaking through the political cordon sanitaire around Israel that had long prevented any serious challenge to its right to exist as an apartheid state. We know this to be the case because Western governments, still wedded to unconditional support for Israel regardless of its repeated violations of international law and refusal to budge an inch from the exceptionalism it has long exploited to be able to so with impunity, are intent on making boycotting Israel a criminal offence.
If allowed to obtain, such a legal stricture on one of the most precious of human attributes – namely the ability to act in solidarity with the victims of injustice – would constitute a monstrous violation of individual and moral conscience. It also lays bare the nauseating hypocrisy of those who speak the language of democracy and human rights while acting to protect and preserve the right of a particular state to trample both beneath an apparatus of oppression which stands as a rebuke to those who would have us believe that human rights are anything other than a gift to be bestowed rather than the universal rights enshrined in the UN Charter (1945).
Antisemitism is so serious, has led to some of the most heinous acts of human cruelty ever committed, that exploiting it in pursuit of censoring those who are committed to confronting the cruelty of apartheid and occupation in the name of its past victims, is the real offense. Here, it must be recognised that it is in the interests of Israel and its supporters to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism in order to attack their credibility and to deter others from joining them. Indeed, given the growing traction of BDS, this now constitutes a key front in the struggle for Palestinian human rights and liberation.
In the last analysis, there is nothing more contemptible than bigots taking the moral high ground against bigotry.
Standing on Earth, not rapt above the Pole,
More safe I Sing with mortal voice, unchang’d
Readers will have noticed that the SU website has not been updated recently.
As many of you know, my teenage son was diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia last July. I am pleased to say that he is currently in remission following brilliant treatment from the NHS. However, the whole process was and continues to be exhausting, and he still needs daily care as he has not yet returned to school. This is why I have had less time for politics generally and less time for the website in particular.
God willing, the situation will continue to improve, and I have not discontinued my interest in the SU website, I just need a rest. I will continue to post here but less frequently, and I have a couple of projects in hand that should result in articles on famine in Mao’s China, and a bibliographic essay on the history of what was actually existing socialism in East Germany.
As an oblique reference to International Womens’ Day, let us celebrate the brave stand taken by Rep Tulsi Gabbard, the Congresswoman for the 2nd Hawai’ian Congressional District, who recently resigned as Vice Chair of the Democratic Party’s National committee (DNC) to endorse Bernie Sanders
Gabbard is an impressive politician, originally born in American Samoa, and the first Hindu ever in Congress. She is currently one of two serving Congresswomen who are combat veterans, having volunteered for two tours in Iraq, and she is now a major in the Hawai’ian National Guard.
Gabbard has taken a very strong stand in opposition to Obama’s policy of seeking regime change in Syria, and she is supportive of Russia’s military action in Syria in aid of the sovereign government in Damascus.
Rather unusually for an elected American politician, Gabbard also links to an article from Peoples’ World from her website, which is broadly equivalent to the Morning Star here in the UK.
Gabbard has a sophisticated understanding of the moral contract with the military, where young working class people are put in harm’s way by the decisions of politicians, not only for the interests of national defence, but also due to illegitimate objectives of regime change and interventionist wars. Yet those same politicians also fail to deliver jobs, care and security for veterans of those wars.
The timing of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU – June 23rd – could not be better for those on the right and far right of the country’s political spectrum. With a refugee crisis of biblical proportions lapping up on Europe’s shores, and with the collapse of the political centre ground across the West in the wake of the enduring impact of the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the right has suddenly found itself vying with the left to occupy the political space that has opened up as a result.
This in itself is no bad thing, for just as the reactionary ideas and politics of Donald Trump in the US and Nigel Farage in the UK have gained traction in recent times, so has the socialist and progressive politics and ideas of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in both countries. However in the context of a referendum on Britain’s continuing membership of the EU, in which we are witnessing an egregious conjunction of left and right, there are serious grounds for alarm.
There is no viable left wing, socialist, or progressive case for Britain leaving the EU – and certainly not in the current political and economic climate. What there is in truth is a campaign for exit (Brexit) that is dominated by the ugly far right politics of anti immigration, xenophobia, and British nationalism. That section of the left that is also campaigning for Britain exit from the EU, basing their arguments on the anti-democratic nature of its institutions and its neoliberal economic orientation, not to mention increasing militarization, is merely allowing itself to be recruited as unwitting footsoldiers by right and far right in what qualifies as a catastrophic collapse of judgment, if not principle.
Jean Monnet’s vision of European unity
The EU started life as the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, which later became the European Economic Community (EEC), established by the Treaty of Rome in 1958. The original EEC was made up of West Germany, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Luxemburg, and Italy in a common market and customs union. It was the brainchild of French diplomat and political economist, Jean Monnet, whose vision of European unity was born of the experience of two devastating European wars by the middle of the twentieth century, and the desire to avoid another by fomenting closer economic cooperation, ties, and integration across the continent between former belligerent states, in particular France and West Germany. “There will be no peace in Europe if the States rebuild themselves on the basis of national sovereignty,” the Frenchman said, “with its implications of prestige politics and economic protection.”
His idea was that member states would cede a little national sovereignty in exchange for peace, and continue to do so until a fully fledged European Union came into being.
Today’s EU worships at the altar of neoliberalism
In 2016 Monnet’s dream is a reality in the form of a European Union of 28 member states with a combined population of 500 million people. For obvious reasons, however, Monnet’s dream for many of those people across the EU has been a nightmare. For not only is the EU an economic behemoth, the largest single market in the world, it is one dominated by the needs, interests, and prerogatives of finance capital, reflected in political institutions underpinned by a constitution, the Treaty of Lisbon, which legislates that its member states worship at the altar of neoliberalism.
We witnessed the grievous consequences of this neoliberal hegemony during the Greek crisis of 2015, when the so-called Troika – the IMF, European Central Bank, and the European Commission – forced harsh austerity measures onto the Greek economy and people, while callously dismissing the popular democratic mandate of its government, under Syriza’s Alexis Tsipras, to pursue an investment led alternative in order to navigate the country out of the economic depression it was suffering
Calls from the far left and right within Greece for the country’s exit from the EU rather than continue to be subjected to what the country’s former finance minister and economist, Yanis Varoufakis, described as “economic waterboarding”, were not shared by the vast majority of Greeks, who understood that Greece’s specific economic circumstances meant that going it alone would be as bad, and perhaps worse, than the austerity medicine prescribed by the Troika.
The awful events in Greece in 2015 confirmed the extent to which neoliberalism is incompatible with national sovereignty. However this incompatibility is not merely a product of the EU. It is also a factor across the entire Western world, with the exception of the United States for the historical and geopolitical reasons set out by Varoufakis’ in his book, The Global Minotaur (Zed, 2015). Most of all it emphasized the need for a pan-European anti austerity movement of sufficient size and strength to mount a serious challenge to the status quo. That one did not and still does not exist does not mean that anti-austerity as counter hegemonic current within Europe is dead, however. In this regard the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party last summer by a landslide on an anti austerity platform, is grounds for optimism.
Jeremy Corbyn’s socialist vision and public ownership
Corbyn’s socialist ideas and vision for Britain has garnered huge support across the country, attracting record numbers of new Labour Party members with his pledge to take back the nation’s railway transport system into public ownership, along with the so-called ‘Big Six’ energy companies. Corbyn is also leading Labour’s campaign for Britain to remain in the EU come the referendum in June.
Here, on the left, opponents of Corbyn’s position claim that public ownership is illegal under current EU legislation. But they’re wrong, at least according Article 345 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU of 1958, which states: ‘The Treaties shall in no way prejudice the rules in Member States governing the system of property ownership.’
This legislation remains extant and refutes the claim that existing EU legislation prohibits the kind of nationalization, or public ownership, being advocated by Jeremy Corbyn. But even if it did prohibit it, are we seriously suggesting that in the event that Corbyn gets elected prime minister on a manifesto that includes public ownership that he would not be able to implement it? Nonsense. If David Cameron can negotiate ‘special status’ for Britain within the EU in areas of welfare benefits and migration, then so can Corbyn on taking key industries and services into public ownership. Britain remains a major economy, not just within Europe but globally, and with that economic status comes negotiating power.
But things won’t have to go that far given that all across the EU state or public ownership within the transport and energy sectors is currently a fact of life.
The EU’s role as US gendarme and human rights
Another issue of concern when it comes to the EU has been its role as a geopolitical and economic gendarme in service to Washington, specifically in recent times with regard to the crisis in Ukraine involving Russia, the conflict in Syria, and the Iranian crisis. In this regard the symbiosis between the EU and NATO is of undoubted concern, particularly with regard to the accession states of Eastern Europe and how this has raised tensions with Moscow, leading directory to the conflict in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Yet given the longstanding nature of the so-called ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US, and the way in which both Germany and France have also established closer ties across the Atlantic over the past decade and more, neither an EU independent of Britain or a Britain independent of the EU would alter the close relationship between either and Washington. If anything, in the event of Brexit, the British political and security establishment would place even more emphasis on its partnership with the United States in order to compensate. As for the eastwards expansion of the EU, there is no reason to presume that this process would cease either.
Another reason for opposing Brexit is the consequences it would have for Britain’s continuing membership of European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which enforces its writ across Europe. Though separate from the EU, the ECHR has been thrown in as part of the toxic brew cooked up by Tory Europsceptics and their far right fellow travellers, led by UKIP’s Nigel Farage. Brexit would almost certainly lead to Britain’s withdrawal and, with it, the removal of a vital layer of human rights legislation for those who find themselves at the sharp end of British justice. This particularly applies to asylum seekers and others facing deportation to countries where they are in danger of being tortured or worse.
For all these reasons and more – workers’ rights and consumer protection, etc. – there is no strong progressive case for Britain leaving the EU, despite its many and manifest flaws. And certainly not when the beneficiaries should it come to pass will be the ugly forces of reaction and nationalism.
Nationalism not socialism is the driver of the campaign for Britain’s exit from the EU, and If successful it will feed a regressive national consciousness at the expense of its class counterpart.
by Gavin Rae
As the news spread around the world about the discovery of new documents, concerning Lech Wałęsa’s alleged collaboration with the Communist authorities, the man himself was addressing the new right-wing parliament in Venezuela. This former trade union leader and avowed champion of democracy and human rights, was supporting the return of the right-wing in Venezuela. He then flew to Miami, to meet Cuban oppositionists and was once again received as a hero. Wałęsa was in his element – the heir of Reagan; the great anti-Communist who had helped to bring down the Soviet Union. Yet at home he was once again being accused of being a Communist agent and the betrayer of the Solidarity movement. Still others defended him as a hero of the nation who had brought freedom and sovereignty to the country. These conflicting narratives have little to do with the actual truth of Wałęsa’s past, but reflect the ongoing conflicts within the Polish elites and the present state of Polish capitalism.
Capitalism has always emerged out of destruction, swindle and usually violence. The Highland clearances; the destruction of indigenous populations; the expropriation of the peasants’ land. In order for capitalism to grow, it not only needs an initial accumulation of capital but also the creation of a particular social relation. Labourers must be separated from their own means of production and subsistence, whether this be their land or their workshop. Once achieved two groups of commodity holders then come into direct contact with one another. Firstly, are the owners of money, the means of production and subsistence, who are eager to increase the sum of values they possess by buying other people’s labour power. Secondly, are the class of labourers themselves, who must survive primarily by selling their labour on the market. And once achieved, the whole sophisticated machinery of capitalism is set in motion, as it expands into ever wider circles of economic and social life, bringing greater sections of society into this commodity relation.
As capitalism emerged from the womb of ‘really existing socialism’, so a new process of capital accumulation had to occur. This time capital confronted an industrialised economy, with its class of organised labourers. Unlike during the transition from Feudalism, work was already socialised and organised in large factories or offices. However, labour did not exist as a commodity that was freely exchanged on the market. The state’s monopoly control over production and the policy of full-employment, meant that the vast majority of work and economic life was organised outside of market relations.
And in order for the new to flourish, the old had to be destroyed. Throughout Eastern Europe a programme of rapid privatisation and liberalisation was undertaken, producing an economic collapse of unprecedented proportions and a simultaneous increase in poverty and social destitution for millions of people. Simultaneously, private capital began to circulate and expand, creating new found wealth and riches. Often oligarchs grabbed the spoils that were made available, particularly in the countries of the ex-USSR, where the economic collapse was most severe. There was nothing fair or honest in all of this. Corruption, political connections and sometimes brute strength determined who were the winners in this competitive game of expropriation.
Poland did not escape this course of events, although it was less severe than in most other Eastern European countries. The economic collapse was the shortest in the region (the economy ‘only’ shrank by around a quarter between 1989 and 1992) and double digit unemployment, high poverty and inequalities were seen as an inevitable stage of a painful transformation. Poland’s own creative destruction involved a deep deindustrialisation, with at least two-thirds of the country’s medium and large industrial enterprises collapsing, leading to around 2 million people losing their jobs. This provided the room for international capital to move in and quickly monopolise large areas of the economy. Although this was not an oligarchical capitalism similar to that further east, a new group of the rich and wealthy consolidated itself in the country. And once again there was nothing fair in this. It was often those with the strongest political connections, both within the former Communist and Solidarity elites, that prospered the most.
The advantage for the economic elite in the developed capitalist world is that its theft has long ago been hidden and forgotten. Its original accumulation of wealth submerged in the fog of time as it has passed through the generations. In the ‘post-Communist’ world it is laid bare and continues to be contested. It is this contestation, within the elite, that underlies the latest wranglings over the historical legacy of the former Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa. Was this the leader of a trade union who led the strikes in that Gdańsk shipyards, that evolved into a social movement of 10 million people and then negotiated the peaceful fall of Communism in Poland, leading to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union itself? Or rather was he a Communist agent, who took money from the authorities and collaborated with the government in order to sustain the system long enough so that a section of its leaders (in collaboration with the Solidarity elite) could line their pockets once the green shoots of capitalism began to emerge?
Both of these versions of history are accumulated myths, and of the most primitive kind.
The first is now perpetuated by a liberal elite, connected to international capital, who see their privileged position as being under threat. They forget the fact that at its height Solidarity was a trade union movement, which demanded a real socialisation and democratisation of ‘really existing socialism’ and for the creation of a Self-Managed Republic. They close their eyes to the betrayal of this movement by the Solidarity elite and at how the intelligentsia forgot about its alliance with the working class. They ignore how the first Solidarity government and its President Lech Wałęsa, ushered in the first set of neo-liberal reforms in Eastern Europe, against the agreements of the Round Table negotiations that paved the way for the transition of power. Furthermore, they put out of their minds how they themselves spent much of the 1990s disparaging Lech Wałesa. He was a good opposition leader and someone who could lead a strike they said; but ultimately an uncultured man and a simple electrician who failed to even master decent Polish (Nie chcem ale muszem).
The second version of history is now gathering pace, under the government of the Law and Justice Party. Wałęsa: the agent and collaborator. The person who worked for the secret services in the 1970s, delivering them information in return for cash. The Solidarity leader who betrayed his movement by forming an alliance with the former Communist leaders to construct a new corrupt elite. The President who opposed a process of lustration* against the Communist elite. This version of history is repeated most loudly by those who fell out with Wałęsa in the early 1990s, many of which are prominent members of the present government. They blame all the ills of capitalism in Poland on what they see as this unfair usurping of power by a corrupt elite. It assumes that if this elite were to be removed, so capitalism could press the reset button. A new fairer and normal capitalist economy would then at last be able to develop.
This is a struggle between two sections of the elite, each accusing the other of the same thing. For the liberal elite, the PiS government is a throwback to the past; a party that replicates the centralised and undemocratic practices of the previous system; that offers populist solutions whilst undermining the market economy. Meanwhile, the conservative right claim they want to redress the injustices of the past, and complete the ‘Solidarity Revolution’, through a fresh process of lustration and ‘decommunisation’. Both of these groups continue to compete for the historical legacy of Solidarity and claim the mantle of the real anti-Communists.
The course of growth through destroying the productive elements of the previous economic system has now exhausted itself. Whilst the liberal intellectuals have spoken of a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity, around 2 million people have chosen to chance their luck abroad. This liberal elite’s former foes within the Solidarity movement are now seizing the day, and capitalising on social dissatisfaction to carry out its own purge at the top, that seeps down to the bottom. And as Poland sits in the middle of a disintegrating Europe, in a global economic system possibly facing a new financial crisis, in a world ridden with wars and uncertainty; so the government averts its population’s eyes to these new show trials in the media. Collaborators, files, agents, code names….
The timing of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU could not be better for those on the right and far right of the political spectrum. In the wake of a refugee crisis, which has seen public sympathy for the plight of the huge numbers of people fleeing conflict and chaos in the Middle East and North Africa turn first to apathy and now to something approaching hostility in many quarters, combined with the collapse of the centre ground across Europe and the US, which I explore in detail here, the prospects of Brexit coming to pass are greater now than they have ever been.
This collapse of the centre ground has not only benefited the right, of course. In the US, while the odious Donald Trump looks a shoe-in for the Republican Party nomination while spouting the kind of rhetoric which in a civilised society would seen him institionalised rather than lauded as a future president, Bernie Sanders has also attracted huge support, evidence that socialism and socialist ideas are no longer taboo in the land of the free. Sanders, in fact, has lit up the Democratic Party primaries with a camopaign that has seen the 74 year old democratic socialist senator from Vermont trounce Hillary Clinton in debate after debate.
But back to the UK and the EU referendum, where despite the attempt by a section of the left to assert that Brexit would make the prospect of implementing progressive and socialist ideas easier – specifically when it comes to taking key industries and services into public ownership – the reality is that the beneficiaries of Brexit would be the right and far right. The politics driving Brexit are the ugly politics of anti immigration, xenophobia, and British nationalism. If successful it would propel the vile reactionary views and worldview of people like Nigel Farage into the heart of the establishment, ensuring that already under pressure minority communities would find themselves placed under even more pressure.
The EU and its insitutions merely reflect the economic and political hegemony of neoliberalism. They are a transmission belt delivering policies which reflect this hegemony, which will remain a fact of life the day after Brexit. This is why those on the left who are intent on campaiging for a No vote on June 23 are playing into the hands of Nigel Farage and UKIP, allowing themselves to be recruited as unwitting footsoldiers for the far right.
There is also the Corbyn factor to consider. At a time when Labour under his leadership is garnering such huge support across the country, and with the Tories in complete disarray over the EU, for anyone on the left to oppose Corbyn over the EU now is tantamount to sectarianism of the worst kind.
There is no viable socialist or progressive case for Britain’s exit from the EU in the present political climate. There is only surrender to right wing nostrums on immigration, multiculturalism, and something called British values.