Brexit was always going to end in an attack on democracy. The two can’t be separated, writes Michael Chessum.
This is always how it was going to end. Brexit is useful to the establishment because it takes a narrative about who is to blame for years of falling living standards – foreigners – and tries to put it on the winning side of history.
The real aim, if you ask any of the people who have ever actually been in charge of Brexit, goes much deeper: attacking migrants, driving down wages, deregulating the economy and bringing us closer to Trump’s America. That, and lots of high powered jobs for you and your chums.
When the psychopaths who ran the Leave campaign were handed the keys to Number 10, the project reached a higher stage. But no form of Brexit – let alone the kind that Boris Johnson wants – has ever commanded anything like majority support in the country or in Parliament. So of course in order to deliver it Johnson and special adviser Dominic Cummings must now try to bypass democracy and wage war on even our limited liberal democratic system.
The coup – Johnson’s attempt to suspend Parliament to force through his Brexit agenda – is the logical end point of Brexit. Brexit in its truest form. If you do not have a politics opposing both, you cannot fully understand either.
In the streets, a large section of the British public are demonstrating that they understand perfectly well what it happening. The #StopTheCoup protests, organised by a pop-up coalition involving Another Europe Is Possible (of which I am national organiser), Momentum and the Green Party, and endorsed by Jeremy Corbyn, have brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets. The protests are not anti-Brexit – and are emphatically open to everyone who opposes the coup. But the mood of the crowds is pretty clear. These are crowds that cheer speeches calling for a second referendum and for open borders. Chants of “no borders, no nations, stop deportations” reverberate among crowds of blue EU berets and trade union branch banners.
For the first time since the referendum, the Remain movement and the labour movement are explicitly mobilising under the same banner and with common purpose. It has taken an unprecedented constitutional crisis to bring these two movements together. They should always have been allies, and their rank and file have been organising together for some time, in spite of the unholy alliance of sectarian centrists and Lexiters telling them to hate each other. For Another Europe Is Possible and the rest of the anti-Brexit left, the euphoria of building a street movement feels like vindication, but we should be wary: this may yet end in catastrophe.
Just as important as the political makeup of the protests is the fact that they show signs of being tactically radical. For those of us on the radical left, civil disobedience, direct action and disruption are automatically part of the tactics we are willing to deploy. We know from bitter experience from the period of the Iraq War that protest movements which do not deploy these are toothless in the immediate term, however big they get. For the people who populate mass protests like the ones seen on Saturday, blocking bridges and occupying public buildings is something that only enters the picture once the official and legitimate avenues of dissent are exhausted.
Not since the student movement of 2010 has there been such a glaring demonstration of how inadequate our democracy is, and how unaccountable our leaders. Then, Liberal Democrats, who had promised to abolish fees, voted instead to triple them and to abolish vital grants for poorer students in Further Education. Now, an unelected Prime Minister is trying to shut down Parliament because it might disagree with him.
The constitutional crisis, coming in the wake of Extinction Rebellionand a huge inspiring campaign of walkouts against climate change waged by school students, has created the conditions for a movement that could yet make the country truly ungovernable. This has the feel of an explosive social movement, including the surreal edge found only in moments of sudden struggle.
If you’d told me five years ago that I’d be standing outside Downing Street, interrupting Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s speech, being led by Paul Mason in a chant of, “You can stick your prorogation up your arse,” I probably would neither have believed you nor known what prorogation meant. Last night, that happened.
Since the rise of Corbynism in 2015, the role of social movements has been decidedly muted. The migration of tens of thousands of activists into the Labour Party has meant that much more time has been dedicated to phone-banking for NEC elections than on planning a resistance movement against austerity. Much of the generation that spent its youth cursing politicians and institutional politics is moving into its thirties, mounting a vigorous defence of the Labour leadership. The labour movement has shifted left politically, but industrially it is in a terrible state. The past few years have witnessed the lowest number of strikes since records began in the late 19th century – in a period in which workers are constantly under attack. If the coup continues, this could be the moment that the new Labour-left finally takes the streets.
Of course, Dominic Cummings will claim that this is exactly what he wants – the rabble on the streets posed against the strong and stable Etonian who knows exactly which item of cutlery to use with each course. But the power of social movements is that they can resonate with unlikely groups of voters. Mass movements give people confidence, and they turn passive supporters into activists. They also unite people through action. If there is to be a snap election, Labour must have the support of Remainers. Having the right policy is essential, but physically and symbolically bringing together the two groups is enormously helpful as well.
As Boris Johnson learned last night when his statement was chanted over by the polite mob outside, it’s all very well pointing at the rabble and claiming it represents a threat to sensible government. But when the crowd is full of people who never thought they’d attend anything like this, and it’s Boris Johnson who’s plunging the country into a constitutional crisis, it doesn’t necessarily stick. And besides, their chanting is drowning him out.
London Socialist Resistance meeting
Britain’s Brexit Crisis:
Stop the coup – Defend democracy
|Tuesday, 10 September 2019
KCBNA Community Centre,
62 Marchmont Street
London WC1N 1AB
Republished from Vice