Editorial: Could Brexit have ended differently?

Boris Johnson’s withdrawal agreement with the European Union, which would “effectively leave Northern Ireland within the EU’s economic jurisdiction” following the UK’s exit, “will dangerously escalate sectarian tensions; spilling over into Britain too as in the past”, we warned before the December 2019 general election. (Socialism Today No.233, November 2019)

“For this reason alone”, we went on, after 19 mainly Blairite Labour MPs had voted with Johnson against the parliamentary whip issued by the then leader Jeremy Corbyn, “the workers’ movement in Britain can give no support to Johnson’s deal”.

The Socialist Party, the publishers of Socialism Today, opposes the EU, which at bottom is a bosses’ club attempting to co-ordinate the policies of different capitalist nation states on a continental scale in the interests of big business.

We backed a leave vote in the binary choice referendum on the UK’s EU membership in 2016 from the standpoint of working class socialist internationalism.

But that did not signify a commitment to offer even one ounce of support to the subsequent outcome of negotiations between the UK government and the 27 other EU member states on what the new relationships would be, including the so-called ‘Northern Ireland Protocol’.

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Sectarian unity against abortion rights

It took a vote in Westminster in 2019, initiated by right-wing backbench Labour MP Stella Creasy and backed by virtually all the right-wing parties in that chamber, to vindicate the rights of women in Northern Ireland to have an abortion.

At the time, the vote was welcomed by activists, women, trade unionists and socialists who had been campaigning for the right to abortion over decades, both north and south. In that period, the campaign in the north has been largely led by women’s organisations often working closely with the leadership of the trade union movement.

The vote in Westminster was seen as the only way to overcome the blockade on women’s reproductive rights resulting from the veto of the main parties at Stormont buildings, the seat of the power-sharing Assembly. In the twenty years since the devolved government was established with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, no moves were made to address the absence of reproductive rights in the north.

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Behind the split in the SNP

The launch of a new pro-independence political party, Alba, by the former Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond dominated the news agenda for the first days of the official start of the Scottish parliament election campaign. It came in the immediate aftermath of the conflict between Salmond and his successor as SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, which arose from allegations of sexual harassment and assault against Salmond. Above all, the formation of the new party reflects deep-seated divisions within the independence movement in Scotland.

As Socialist Party Scotland commented at the beginning of March, a month before Alba’s launch, “these splits and divisions are also indicative of a conflict over how to confront British capitalism’s opposition to Scottish independence. Sturgeon is widely seen outside of the SNP as too timid. Her insistence that only a ‘legal’ referendum, ie one agreed by Boris Johnson, can offer a route to independence is increasingly seen as a utopia. Her fear of mobilising the working class in a mass movement for democratic rights is a morbid one”.

“Salmond and other pro-Salmond elements take a more combative position, at least in rhetoric. This could crystallise into a split from the SNP after the election in May with the creation of a new political formation. It’s not ruled out that Salmond could even stand in the election, perhaps on one of the pro-independence lists”.

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New opportunities in Peru

The second round of the presidential elections in Peru, which takes place on Sunday 6 June, will see left candidate, Pedro Castillo, line up in a run-off with the right-wing candidate, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the former dictator Alberto Fujimori.

The first round of the presidential contest was held on April 11, along with elections for the National Congress and the Andean Parliament. The big winner of the day was the left-wing party, Peru Libre, whose presidential candidate, Pedro Castillo, came first, with 2.687 million votes, a 19.1% vote share, in an election with eighteen presidential candidates. His party also came first in the Peruvian Congress poll and in the election of members of the Andean Parliament, with a similar percentage of the vote. Peru Libre will have 28 Congress representatives.

Veronica Mendoza, who as the left-facing Broad Front candidate in the last presidential elections in 2016 received 18.7% of the votes in the first round, now only obtained a poll share of 7.8%, losing 1.76 million votes on her 2016 score. This is the result of her effort not to appear as a ‘radical left’, making declarations to distance herself from Venezuela for example, while making overtures to the business sector. Appearing as too much like the decayed political caste abhorred by her own electorate, Mendoza was abandoned by her supporters. The party she now leads won even less support for its congressional candidates, at just 6.8%.

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One hundred years of divide and rule

This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the partition of Ireland. With sectarian tensions rising once again, the real history of that period – of revolution and counter-revolution – needs to be reclaimed. NIALL MULHOLLAND writes.

On 22 June 1921, a parliament for the new state of Northern Ireland, compromising the six counties in the north east of the island, was opened by King George V, in its temporary accommodation in Belfast City Hall. Over the next months, the twenty-six county Irish Free State also came into being.

The Irish workers’ leader James Connolly’s dire prediction in 1914 that the division of Ireland (partition) would lead to “a carnival of reaction” was fully borne out. Civil war, military rule, sectarian upheaval and bloody pogroms accompanied the creation of the two impoverished and church-ridden capitalist states. From the start, the Catholic minority in Northern Ireland’s ‘Orange State’ were brutally treated and discriminated against. Arising from British imperialism’s long held ‘divide and rule’ tactics, partition was a monstrous crime against the interests of the working class of Ireland, cutting across national and social revolutionary movements and entrenching sectarian divisions.

The real history of that period of revolution and counter-revolution in Ireland, from around 1913 to 1923, is obfuscated and distorted in most of the history books. And the main political parties in the North inevitably view this pivotal period of Irish history from their sectarian perspectives.

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The condition of the working class

The Covid pandemic has brought into relief the persisting inequities of capitalism and the terrible conditions of life it inflicts on millions of workers, including in the so-called ‘advanced’ capitalist countries. Sozialistische Organisation Solidaritaet, the German section of the CWI, has reprinted the first systematic expose of capitalism written by Friedrich Engels, The Condition of the Working Class in England, at a time, in 1840s Britain, when it was still a relatively new and dynamic system. Below is the introduction to the new volume, written by LENNY SHAIL.

In 1863 while working away at what was to become Das Kapital, Karl Marx took time out to refresh himself again with his comrade and closest friend’s early masterpiece The Condition of the Working Class in England.

In his almost daily letter exchange to Engels, Marx commented, “What power, what incisiveness and what passion drove you to work in those days. That was a time when you were never worried by academic scholarly reservations! Those were the days when you made the reader feel that your theories would become hard facts if not tomorrow then at any rate on the day after”.

The book was the first to be published by either of the two great collaborators, and it is timely that Sozialistische Organisation Solidaritaet is reprinting it for current and future generations given the conditions and struggles facing the working class across the world today that are in many cases identical to that of the horrifying conditions illuminated by the 24 years-old Friedrich Engels.

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An heroic episode

We Fight Fascists

By Daniel Sonabend

Published by Verso, 2019, £20

Reviewed by Nick Hart

Britain in 1946: despite the second world war being over, many of the hardships of wartime persisted. Rationing was still in place, cities were pockmarked with bomb sites, unemployment was rising and many workers remained housed in slum conditions.

It was in this austere environment that a number of those who had previously been active in the British Union of Fascists (BUF) during that organisation’s 1930s heyday began to regroup and restart their campaign of anti-Semitic provocation. What they had not reckoned with was the resolute opposition which they would encounter.

We Fight Fascists by London-based historian Daniel Sonabend tells the story of The 43 Group, an organisation set up by working class Jews, mainly though not exclusively based in London, to prevent a fascist revival by any means necessary. In a fast paced and meticulously researched account, Sonabend relates how a group of Jewish ex-servicemen, angered both by the anti-Semitic slander being openly spread on the streets of Britain and the passivity of more established Jewish organisations in confronting it, set out to disrupt the activities of the fascists wherever they encountered them.

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