Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Brexit Car Crash

In attempting to justify the waste of £4 billion of public money on No Deal Brexit precautions, Amber Rudd has argued that just because you spend money on a seat belt, it does not mean you have to crash the car. But, of course, seat belts are a precaution against a car crash that happens accidentally. The reality of Brexit is that it is a car crash that the government is deliberately intent upon. There is nothing accidental about it, the government could end the possibility of it, today, simply by saying it intends to revoke Article 50. At the very least, instead of May stupidly, or dishonestly, or arrogantly (choose your adjective of what kind of woman she might be) claiming that the way to stop a No Deal Brexit is to vote through her Bad Deal Brexit, she could simply say that she will never allow a No Deal Brexit to happen. After all, we all actually know that is the case anyway! 

For all of the reasons I have set out previously, May will not allow a No Deal Brexit to go ahead, and if she continues to perform this pantomime of the possibility of such an event, sooner or later, the financial speculators will themselves call her to account, for fear that she simply allows things to get out of her control. We all know that she is trying to simply run down the clock, in the hope that she will get the Tory Remainers on board along with a sufficient number of weak-minded Labour MP's, to push her bad deal through. But, she won't. They are holding out the prospect that the EU will give her some kind of legally binding assurance that the backstop will be only temporary, but they won't, and they can't. 

The EU could only give such an assurance if Britain had signed up to some more permanent arrangement that made it no longer necessary, but no such permanent arrangement is available. The only permanent arrangement that would make the backstop unnecessary would be one in which the UK was part of the EU Customs Union and Single Market, so that no Irish border is necessary. That is what the backstop provides for on a temporary basis. The Brextremists dislike it for that very reason that they think it essentially means that Britain could remain inside the EU indefinitely. The EU 27 actually don't like it, for the same reason that it actually undermines the EU, because it gives Britain the same privileges of membership (more or less), but without being in the EU. The price for Britain is that it gets no say on making the rules it has to abide by, or in the terms of new trade deals done with other countries, and economic blocs, by the EU. In fact, the seat belt analogy is more appropriate here than in relation to No Deal. It is a seat belt that no one would want to have the cost of installing, but so long as the possibility of no permanent arrangement exists, and so no permanent resolution of the Irish question, it is something they have to agree to have. If there was never a possibility of cars crashing, there would be no need for seat belts. 

The EU have agreed to it as a fudge to get over the short term difficulty in relation to Ireland.

The likelihood is that May would like to have the arrangements of the backstop as a permanent solution, but the EU cannot give it to her. A Norway deal is off the table, because the EFTA countries don't want Britain in their club, and it shows the arrogance of British politicians, and pundits that they could put up such a solution without any regard as to whether the EFTA countries themselves might have any say in the matter! A Canada solution is not possible, because it does not resolve the Irish border question. It's one thing for Canada, thousands of miles away from the EU, to have a free trade agreement, that basically covers the sale of finished goods, but it is quite another for Britain to have such an agreement with the EU, where a large part of the trade is of intermediate goods, of components of finished goods, which travel rapidly, back and forth across EU borders, many times, unimpeded, before they form part of the final product. 

And, of course, Corbyn would also like essentially the same deal as May, of Britain remaining inside the Customs Union, but also to be “close” to the single market. In other words, an even more unrealistic attempt to have cake and eat it. Corbyn wants to be in the Customs Union, at the same time as having the right to determine the rules and regulations of that Customs Union, despite being outside the EU. He sees that as a means of resolving the Irish border issue, but it doesn't, for the same reason that a Canada style free trade agreement does not resolve it. To do that requires being inside the Single Market, or else accepting all of the rules and regulations of the single market, and committing to remain aligned to them, for any future changes. That is required, because what is important is not any different customs and tariff regimes, but the commitment to abide by a common set of standards of goods and services produced, for example, chlorinated chicken products. Corbyn does not want to commit to being “in” the single market, because it would mean accepting all of the rules of that single market, including all those in relation to “state aid” etc. that Corbyn sees as inimical to his programme of economic nationalism. So, he wants to be “close” to the single market, so as to have all of its benefits, including in relation to Ireland, but with none of the costs, or obligations of abiding by its rules, and accepting free movement etc. It is an even more unachievable goal than the Tories' Brexit proposals.  

If Ireland were united that would remove one problem, but that is not going to happen in the immediate future, and even then, it does not remove the other problems of Brexit. The EU is not going to allow Britain to be permanently inside the Customs Union, and have the advantages of access to the single market, but Britain, because it is overwhelmingly dependent on the EU economy, will, either way, be forced to accept EU rules and regulation, so as to be able to sell its goods and services inside the bloc. Meanwhile, it will also face tariffs, and other barriers to its trade with the EU, which will disadvantage British based businesses, encouraging them to relocate to Europe. In fact, that is already happening, and as March 29th approaches that trickle will turn into a torrent. 

More than a decade ago, I had a debate with some members of the AWL, who claimed that Bonapartism is normal. The statement is, of course, nonsense. It may be true to say that, for some states, in particular circumstances Bonapartism is normal. For example, as I've set out in numerous posts, economies in the process of modernising and industrialising often have Bonapartist regimes. That could be said of Britain under Cromwell, and even under the early period of liberal bourgeois democracy, where only 2% of the population had the right to vote, prior to the 1832 Reform Act. It is true of France under Napoleon, and after, including the period under Louis Philippe, and under Louis Napoleon, and it is true of Bismark. Similar conditions apply to the Bolivarian regimes in Latin America in the 19th century, and to the regimes in the Middle East, of Nasser, Assad, the Shah and so on. Countries riven by cross-cutting cleavages are also frequently characterised by Bonapartism, as the deep divisions in society, enable the state to rise above society, and indeed it is required to do so to sit on top of those divisions, which otherwise would continually rip the country apart. 

But, as I pointed out, would anyone think that it was “normal” if tomorrow they woke up and found that Britain was a Bonapartist regime? Of course they would not think it normal, because as Lenin points out, in State and Revolution, the chosen form of rule of the bourgeoisie is the bourgeois democratic state. It has found that this form has the lowest overhead costs; it enables it to rule under cover of the appearance of democracy, and by a thousand golden threads to directly control the actions of the state in its own interests. Under the regime of industrial capitalism, that bourgeois democratic state takes the form of social-democracy, as the middle-class - the functioning capitalists as Marx describes them -  can only form a majority with the support of the industrial working-class.  Its only necessary to look at the risks to the bourgeoisie that manifested themselves in Nazi Germany, when the bourgeoisie had to give up its control of the political regime, to see why they seek to rule via the bourgeois democratic state, and all of the costs of corruption, bureaucracy and inefficiency that go along with such states, as witnessed in Latin America, or the Middle East, show why the bourgeoisie seek to replace Bonapartism at the earliest opportunity. 

But, all political regimes exist somewhere on a continuum. Presidential systems such as that in the US, or France are inherently more Bonapartist than a pure parliamentary system, because the constitution gives considerable concentrated power to the President. In a parliamentary system, the sovereignty of the people is primarily expressed via the sovereignty of parliament. Voters elect MP's, not governments or ministers. That is why the trend towards turning the Prime Minister into a proto-President, by things such as leaders debates, the focus of the media on the personalities of the party leaders is a retrograde development. It is MP's who elect their party leaders in parliament, and thereby form the government. In practice, if Labour MP's so chose, they could form their own parliamentary group, and elect their own Leader, in opposition to Corbyn, and in defiance of the party outside parliament. Similarly, and especially under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, MP's could combine across parties to pass a No Confidence Motion in May, and together form a cross party alliance, electing their own Leader to present themselves to the Monarch, so as to form a National Government to stop Brexit. 

Although Britain is not a Presidential system, it has some of its features. It has been described as an elected dictatorship, because the Prime Minister, has the power of patronage. It is they who appoint their Ministers. As seen in the No Confidence Vote in May, the government payroll amounts to over 150 MP's, which gives the Prime Minister a considerable power over them. Prior to the FTPA, the Prime Minister could threaten unruly backbenchers with dissolving parliament and calling an election, in which they might lose their seats. But, contrary to its intentions, the FTPA has given May more power, because even as now when she does not have a majority for her main policy proposals, she can remain in office, because parliament can only be dissolved if two-thirds of MP's vote for it (which Tory MP's will not do), or if two No Confidence motions are passed, which again Tory MP's will not support, for fear of letting in Corbyn. 

Britain today, is not a Bonapartist regime, but on that continuum it is certainly closer to it than it was a decade ago, or even three years ago. Brexit, an issue which came way down the list of voters priorities in every election was turned into the centrepiece of political life, with the country divided in half. That division of society created the space for the emergence of Bonapartism, in the way that ethnicity, or religion etc. divides societies elsewhere in the globe that enables authoritarian figures, and demagogues to rise up above society, and to hold themselves in place by authoritarian measures. It's no coincidence that Cameron took the Tories out of the EPP and aligned them with the European neo-fascists and authoritarians, or that May fought the election under the banner of “strong and stable leadership”, whilst she hobnobs with autocrats such as the Saudi Monarchy, or Trump, and that she looks for support in Europe from authoritarian regimes like that in Poland, or Orban in Hungary, whilst Liam Fox tells the butcher Duterte that they have “shared values”

May's regime rests upon an increasingly narrow base, which can only be sustained by the use of authoritarian and anti-democratic means. It is backed by a section of the Tory media that has itself historically had a penchant for supporting Bonapartists, and authoritarians, such as the Daily Mail's backing of Mussolini in the 1920's, and of Hitler in the 1930's. The only way that May could push through her deal would be on the basis of a Brexiters Alliance forged with Corbyn, who until now, she has studiously avoided. It would be a last throw of the dice. For her to make such an alliance with Corbyn, on the basis of some longer term commitment to staying in the Customs Union, for example, would cause the Tories to split. But, it would mean that Corbyn would also be destroyed. It would mean a betrayal on the scale of that by Ramsay MacDonald in 1931. 

But, such nationalist lash-ups are not unknown, and Corbyn appears driven by nationalist ideology more than class politics, under the influence of his national-socialist advisors from the Communist Party and Socialist Action. Such a lash-up to push through Brexit “in the national interest” would only be a continuation of the ideas of the popular front, advocated by the Stalinists, and reflected in the cross-class politics of many of the fronts that Corbyn has headed up, in the past, such as the Stop The War Coalition. But, it's unlikely, because it would also split the Labour Party as happened in 1931, except this time, the vast majority of the party would be pulled in behind the Blair-rights, who until now appeared to have no possible road back. 

May could, therefore, be forced by events into doubling down on her authoritarianism, and drift towards Bonapartism. The decision to pull the Meaningful Vote, when it was clear she was going to lose, the contempt of parliament, the refusal to give time for Corbyn's No Confidence Vote in her, the rise of the EDL/BNP, as it takes over UKIP, as the extra-parliamentary forces backing the Brextremists, the increased warnings of civil unrest if another referendum is called, whilst any concern that opponents of Brexit have an equal right to be angry about their demands for a further vote, being dismissed, shows a dynamic in place. Already, it is being said that May could yet again pull the vote in January, if as seems inevitable, she is about to lose it by a large majority. She has every reason to do so, because when she loses, it will be difficult for her to withstand the pressure to resign, and call a General Election. 

But, Brexit is overwhelmingly against the interest of the dominant sections of capital. It is inconceivable that they would stand by idly, whilst May drags Britain into a Bonapartist regime, simply to push through a policy that is against their interests. Bonapartism is not normal for a developed bourgeois democratic state such as Britain. It has huge immediate and longer-term costs for capital, both economic and political. It strips bare the facade of democracy that covers the rule of the social dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

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