With the Tories in crisis and revelations that the EU are preparing to implement a hard border in Ireland, do we have to side with either London of Brussels? Gerry Carroll MLA gives his take, in a partially edited address given to a public meeting in Scotland.
I think the first thing that has to be said tonight, is that we live in extraordinary times. The British state is in an existential crisis. The Tories are more divided than ever, and there are possibilities for socialists to gain out of this crisis.
So how should we understand this crisis? How should we understand Brexit? For me it is very simple; Brexit is a battle between two competing imperial blocs, two bully boys. Both of which are willing to put their own interests above those of ordinary working class people.
No To a Tory Brexit
On the one hand, you have a decaying British Empire, with an increasingly erratic Tory party at its helm. They are trying to impose a Tory Brexit on people, in a vain effort to save their own skin. Not all of the Tories backed Brexit of course. Theresa May voted remain. But as the old neo-liberal saying goes; never let a good crisis go to waste.
And that’s exactly what the Tories are doing. They are attempting to use Brexit, as a means to reposition British capitalism, and the city of London in particular, as a rival geo-political centre to the Berlin-Paris axis that dominates the EU.
The old Etonians harbour dreams of resurrecting the glory days of empire and rule Britannia. And it is clear that they don’t give a damn about the interests of ordinary working class people, still less those in the so-called devolved regions who never voted for them, or the migrants that they are so keen on hounding.
We all know that the Tories are pig-ignorant of the border in Ireland. Karen Bradley, the secretary of state, has admitted as much. But its not just a question of ignorance; riding roughshod over the interests of people in the North of Ireland is in the very DNA of Toryism. No one ever voted for them, but they feel it is their innate right to dictate. They are imperialists after all.
Neither London Nor Brussels
So on the one hand you have a decaying imperialist British Empire. But, on the other hand, you have a bourgeoning EU empire. An imperial empire that recently formed what is known as PESCO; a policy that sets in motion moves to create a new European army, that will eventually pose as an imperial rival to the NATO arrangement and any perceived encroachment by Russia or China into the EU’s ‘sphere of influence.’ PESCO effectively eliminates Irish neutrality, and makes a mockery of national sovereignty.
It is a neo-liberal empire; that waged economic terror on the people of Greece unless they pay billions to the bankers, that devasted the working classes of places like Spain and Portugal, and who threatened to let-off an economic bomb in Dublin if the Irish did not pay the bondholders—leading to devastation and austerity for ordinary people.
It is an undemocratic empire; run by unelected bureaucrats, who haven’t the slightest sympathy for national sovereignty. When the people of Catalonia, our comrades in the struggle for socialism and independence, voted to cede from Spain—the EU backed Madrid’s vicious repression of the vote, and assisted in hunting down the democratically elected leaders of Catalonia. If you think the EU are allies in the struggle for a unified Ireland, or a free Scotland, still less a socialist Ireland or Scotland then you are profoundly mistaken.
And of course it is a racist empire; content with caging thousands of refugees behind fences, and thousands more to suffer or die in the Mediterranean. The Libyan coast guard—tasked with hunting down migrants fleeing poverty and war—has one sole funder; the EU. We do not doubt the racist intentions of a Tory Brexit, but we should not cloud the reality of the EU’s role in controlling the movement of people.
So we have two imperial blocs competing here, as I said, two bully boys. Both sides will be willing to do damage to ordinary people, to use things like the Irish border or the rights of migrants to threaten the other.
No Hard Border
Just take the border for instance; we all know that the Tories in London are will willing to play a dangerous game of chicken, that could result in the erection of a hard border in Ireland, that would have profound consequences.
The Tories are so rotten, so incompetent, that they have made the EU look like the civil, reasonable side in this debate. Yet what have we learnt in the last few weeks? We have learnt that despite two years of denying they would ever erect a hard border, the EU are now saying that they would insist on one in the event of a no deal Brexit, in order to protect the integrity of their single market.
No one wants a hard border in Ireland. The Irish government has repeatedly stated that it would not support one. But it is now clear that Leo Varadkar is prepared to go back on that promise. His government is rapidly preparing to impose one in the event of a ‘no-deal Brexit’—even going as far as to suggest the possibility of troops being deployed.
Any imposition of a hard border by the Irish government would be a deeply reckless move. It would exacerbate sectarian tensions, and be a potential focal point for a resurgence in violence. It would damage community cohesion, and place already struggling border areas under strain.
There is no mandate for a hard border. A recent poll, for example, showed that only 14% of people support the imposition of such a border. Given this scale of opposition, we believe that any attempt to erect a hard border would be an undemocratic move of unprecedented proportions. Whatever one’s view of Brexit or EU membership, there is no legal or democratic mandate for a hard border in Ireland.
So there you have it; despite years of denial, both the British state and the EU are willing to risk a hard border in Ireland, and to put the interests of their market above the interests of ordinary people.
And here I think we have to take a lesson from the great socialist James Connolly, born not far from here in the slums of Edinburgh. During World War 1, faced with an imperial rivalry; Connolly summed up his position in the very simple slogan; Neither King, Nor Kaiser.
And I think for us, for socialists in Ireland or Scotland, for those in favour of the breakup of the UK, and dismantlement of neoliberalism; I think we have to say that we stand with neither London nor Brussels, but a Socialist Ireland, a socialist Scotland.
And that is the slogan of the socialists in in People Before Profit, neither London nor Brussels but a socialist Ireland. In this imperialist rivalry we refuse to take sides. We refuse to fall into the liberal trap, of saying that in order to rid ourselves of imperialism from one empire, that it is our job to jump in bed with another form of imperialism in Brussels. An imperialism that has already had a devastating impact on the people in the South of Ireland over the last decade. We start from the interests of working class people, not the British of European elites.
But despite this debacle, I think there is good reason for socialists to be optimistic. Brexit has revealed the underlying tensions in the EU. But perhaps even more starkly, it has also revealed that Britain, the UK, is a failed state, a decaying state. How can we discuss our borders, our trade, our economy in a way that is dictated and enforced from London. We can’t. Brexit has proven that. The British state is beginning to unravel
And here I think socialist can play a unique role. Firstly, we have to fight for democracy. That means saying that Theresa May cannot simply impose her vision of Brexit on the people of Scotland or Ireland. I am opposed to a Tory Brexit. I do not support one. People Before Profit does not support one.
There is no mandate for a Tory Brexit. No socialist worth their salt could seriously suggest that a Tory Brexit, carved out in London, without the slightest input of people in places like the North of Ireland, can simply be imposed. It cannot. And I think that is something the Left in London will also have to get use to. We respect democracy, yes. But we cannot simply see the UK as a single democratic entity. A solution for Ireland cannot be imposed from London.
For that reason, it is obscene that such a Tory Brexit could be imposed on people, but that people in Ireland do not have the right to vote on the border, and people in Scotland don’t have the right to a second indy referendum. People should have the right to a border poll in the event of a hard Brexit. We want to fight for a new Ireland, where all working-class people, North or South, Catholic or Protestant can have a stake in.
People Power is Key
However, and I think this is very important; we cannot simply wait until a border poll—that might take some time to happen. We need to put Leo Varadkar on notice now that any move to erect a hard border will be met by immediate and sustained mass protest.
I think this has been missing from the debate. We cannot simply allow our rulers to decide the direction of travel, the people must have their say. One way to do that is through votes, of course. But another is through mass mobilisations.
And there’s good reason to think this can make a difference. People power has helped shape Ireland for the better in recent years; building a consensus for repeal, placing our housing crisis on the popular agenda, and blocking the imposition of the water charges.
I believe that the creativity and energy of these movements can be harnessed in the Brexit crisis, to ensure that people in this Island are not made to pay the price for the failures of political elites.
To this end, we need to commit to organising a mass movement of people power, to resist any effort to impose a hard border in Ireland. We should be committed to this endeavour, whether the border is erected by the British government, or by the Irish government at the insistence of the EU. What the political elite does, the movement of people can undo.
Towards a Socialist Ireland
The irony is that Brexit, and the role of the DUP and the Tories in particular, might well spell the beginning of the end for the UK. In trying to strengthen their union, they are alienating people who would never have thought about a united Ireland in the past. But polls show an increasing number of people are.
And here socialists have a unique role to play. You see, nationalists in Ireland use to have this saying that ‘Labour Must Wait’. It meant that the national question comes first, and that working class issues come later. We cannot fall into this trap comrades.
We cannot simply wait on independence, or imagine that cosying up to the elites in Scotland or Ireland will bring about change. As Connolly himself said, why would working class people be enthused about being ruled by the devil they do not know instead of the devil they do.
So we must not caught up in sitting around, waiting for Brexit to be revolved, or indeed either side of the Brexit debate to bring us freedom.
The Trade Unions shouldn’t be sitting back either. The Tories are in crisis. Im astonished that there is so much passivity from the Trade Union leaderships.
Now’s the time to strike for better pay, for better conditions. The bosses are threatening to use Brexit to threaten workers. We need the unions out, threatening industrial action. We need to organise to defend workers in tis crisis. We have a parliament in crisis, lets use it to our advantage.
And we have to tie the fight for democracy and sovereignty with an urgent fight against the rotten experience of welfare reform, against the attacks on our poor, against the attacks on our education and health services. We can link the fight for democracy with the fight around day-to-day issues, for the fight for economic democracy, for socialism.
So in conclusion comrades, there is no doubt that Brexit poses big challenges for the Left. But these are challenges we must face head on. When we see our rulers as divided as they are, we know that opportunities for progressive politics are on the horizon.
Onwards to a socialist Ireland, a socialist Scotland, and a socialist world.