On Writing and Silence

A loyal follower of this blog and Internet friend asked me last week why I haven’t blogged much recently, so I thought I should explain to those who are interested. There are three main reasons.  In the first place, I’ve been extraordinarily busy.  I’ve been writing two books, one of which required a lot of rewriting.  I’ve also been helping to organize the One Day Without Us campaign, which really has eaten into my working day, particularly in October, when it was almost impossible to do anything else.

Secondly, so many horrific,depressing – and complex things have happened this year that I have felt unable to keep up with them or say anything meaningful about them in the time that I have had.

My inability to speak out about Trump, Brexit, Syria, Yemen and so many other things is also related to an ongoing personal political crisis that I have yet to resolve.  In November last year, one of the people who criticized my ‘international brigades’ post asked me why I kept writing things.  I told him I wrote because there wasn’t any choice for me.  It’s what I do and what I’ve always done.   At the same time I’ve always asked myself what value writing has – not just mine – but any writing.  What does it do?  What does it achieve?

One of my favourite writers is the great Austrian satirist Karl Kraus ‘ the master of venomous ridicule’, as Stefan Zweig once called him.  Kraus’s venom and his ridicule sometimes bordered on the misanthropic – not a position I’ve ever wanted to find myself in – but he wrote with real brilliance about the nationalist insanity of World War II, in his essays and also in his sprawling play The Last Days of Humanity.   In an essay on the outbreak of World War I, Kraus said that essentially that the world had become so corrupt and debased to the point that language itself had not meaning and therefore the only thing writers could do was step forward and say nothing at all.

Of course he didn’t do that – he was a writer after all.   But one writer who did retreat into silence was Isaac Babel.  Estranged from Stalinist literary culture and from Stalin himself, he decided to write nothing and say nothing.  In Stalinist Russia that wasn’t good enough of course.  Silence was a political position, because it wasn’t support for the regime.  Because Babel didn’t loudly proclaim the revolution and its inane cult of socialist realism, he was objectively counter-revolutionary and that’s why he was eventually shot, in effect, for saying nothing.

My own temporary silence on this blog owes more to Kraus than to Babel.  It isn’t that I consider silence a statement, but lately I have just not been able to find the words with which to respond to the depraved lunacy and collective stupidity that is sweeping my country and the Western world lately.

And that isn’t all.   I’ve always thought of myself as on the left and of the left and I still do, but there’s so little I admire or respect about the British left right now it’s really hard to feel I ‘belong ‘ to it. On one level I never did . I didn’t call my blog ‘notes from the margins’ for nothing. If I had any use as a writer writing about politics, it was from that marginal critical position, which didn’t pin me to any established party or network or make the representative of anything.

That changed somewhat when Stop the War began posting my pieces – something that I was ok with until I found myself accused of ‘representing’ positions that I didn’t have.   But 2016 has been a kind of critical rupture for me, following the debacle of last November w/ the ‘international brigades’ fiasco and the almost complete abandonment of critical faculties by sections of the left back then – which still continues albeit in trickles – , not to mention Stop the War’s cowardly abandonment of myself and Chris Floyd.

Then there was Brexit,and it’s little wannabe sister Lexit, propagating the cynical/opportunist and downright foolish idea that a no vote was somehow ‘progressive’ – coupled with a refusal to recognise the racism unleashed and legitimised by it, and a willingness to effectively throw some three million EU citizens under the Brexit bus in the vague hope that something good might turn up out of the mess for the left, or the working class or the revolution.

Let me make it absolutely clear – a left that behaves like this and thinks like this, no matter how cleverly, is not a movement that I feel anything in common with or want to ‘belong’ to, or speak for or speak to.   There really aren’t any words to express how disgusted I am by this and how shameful I find it.

And now we have McDonnell, McCluskey and Lewis coming from the soft left promising to ‘listen to concerns’ about immigration, when they should be challenging them.

And then there is the left and Syria. It isn’t just the ‘revolutionary’ posturing by people who would never go anywhere near a Syrian battlefield, many of whom are busy picking up MAs and PhDs while spouting platitudes about armed struggle.Or the vicious insults if you don’t accept their starry-eyed vision of the Syrian revolution. Fascist bag carrier. Truther. Ghouta denialist. Assad supporter. Piece of shit. ISIS lover – I’ve heard it all from these great humanitarians over the last few years.

It isn’t just the certainty about things that are not always certain. Or the jostling for a morally superior position, using Syria as an excuse to pursue old sectarian vendettas in a new form. There are also the leftists who talk about Assad as if he were the good guy in this, and a representative of the ‘axis of resistance’ etc, and now t’s all Israel’s fault etc

To me the Syrian war is an unmitigated horror. Is that the ‘correct’ line? Is it enough? No. Do I know the ‘truth’ about Syria?  No.   But I find it astounding that Syria has suddenly become a test of how left or how moral or how revolutionary you are. I do not accept that we ‘have blood on our hands’ for Aleppo and not for Yemen, or South Sudan, or Mosul, or Gaza.

Why does the ‘left’ play games like this? Why, when faced with wars, do so many leftists believe that you always have to support one side or the other? Suppose you don’t think any of the sides are ‘good’?

In the end I don’t know  why the left behaves like this, but like I said, I don’t admire or respect it (hey don’t worry, i know the feeling’s mutual), and it’s made it very difficult for me to write blog posts or even facebook posts – except on racism and migration.

The thing is, for much of my life I felt that the left were the good guys – regardless of the many historical crimes that some leftist regimes have carried out, and that the left, with all its contradictions, still offered answers to the various scourges of militarism, racism, war, poverty and social justice that it was incumbent on my generation to try and solve.

Now I’m not sure if that’s true. I’m not even sure the left, especially the ‘revolutionary’ left has any future at all except as a subculture – and a forum to attack anyone who isn’t Marxist enough for it or as revolutionary as they think they should be.

In fact I’m not really that sure about anything right now, and that’s why I haven’t written very much on this blog.   That doesn’t I’m going to retreat into silence or withdraw from the world. It doesn’t mean that I intend to follow the Nick Cohen route.

I have no intention of shutting down the Infernal Machine permanently.  After all,  I might have Karl Kraus whispering in one ear, but I also have Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s great poem Bol! [Speak} next to my desk, which declares quite rightly:

Speak, this brief hour is long enough
Before the death of body and tongue:
Speak, ‘Cause the truth is not dead yet,
Speak, speak, whatever you must speak.

So I wish you all a peaceful ending to this year of lunacy, and I look forward to seeing you all again in 2017, ready to wage the many struggles that still have to be waged.

Freaky Friday

In  the Jamie Lee Curtis comedy Freaky Friday, a mother and teenage daughter wake up to find themselves trapped in each other’s bodies as a result of a magic spell.  Yesterday I underwent a similar but even more disturbing transformation.   On Thursday night I dreamt that Remain had won the referendum.  Early on Friday morning I woke up to find Nigel Farage crowing about ‘Independence Day’ and celebrating a victory for the ‘real, decent people.’

Over the next twenty-four hours, along with millions of my unreal and indecent fellow-citizens, I found myself trapped in a country that I didn’t want to be in, facing a horrible future that I couldn’t escape from.

No one can say the country was in good shape before Brexit.  Large swathes of the population were clearly not doing well.   Food banks; zero hours contracts; worsening labour conditions; wage stagnation; cuts and atrophied public services; pressure on schools and GPs surgeries; high rents; social cleansing’ gross social and regional inequality; a lack of affordable housing; a succession of paedophile scandals involving high-level institutional collusion; and the near-collapse of the British steel industry – it wasn’t Shangri-la and it wasn’t Jerusalem.

At the same time, the country wasn’t exactly hell on earth. .It wasn’t in recession. Unemployment was at a 10-year low (even if that outcome was partly due to a rise in part-time work and austerity-induced precarity).   Our much-loathed immigrants came here to work, not in order to drain the nation’s bodily fluids,  and they did so because there was work available.   Contrary to what many of us have been told, their presence, according to a 2014 UCL, was good for us, providing a net gain of £20 billion to the country’s public finances. Northern Ireland was not at war with the British government or with itself, partly because of the money provided to the region through the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and other structural funds. .

As a result of Thursday’s decision, none of that can be taken for granted.   We now face the possibility of  a national and possibly international recession, at a time when the global economy has barely recovered from the last one.  We are likely to witness the breakup and collapse of the United Kingdom; the secession of Scotland; the disintegration of the European Union on terms set entirely by the far-right.   We might also see the collapse the Irish Peace Process and the Belfast Agreement, as EU funds disappear and the reappearance of Ireland’s neutral border reopens sectarian divisions that have been held in abeyance for nearly two decades.

After decades of painstaking agreements and negotiations that have made it possible for Britons to live,work and study anywhere on the continent, and for Europeans to do the same here, we now face the curtailment and elimination of these rights.  We face years and years of painful negotiations as a succession of almost certainly weak governments attempt to disentangle themselves from the agreements that their predecessors voluntarily entered into.

No one can say for sure how all this will turn out, but it is difficult to imagine that the dangerous clowns who led us into this mess can negotiate their way through its consequences, and there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the final outcome will be worth the massive waste of energy and the turmoil and uncertainty that it is almost certain to engender. .

Already their efforts have divided and polarised the nation, after what is perhaps the dirtiest, ugliest and most dishonest political campaign in British history.   After decades of moving away from a society that once had signs up saying ‘No blacks or Irish’, this campaign has unleashed and legitimized toxic hatreds, prejudices and expectations that will be difficult, if not impossible to put back in the bag.

Brexiters – both left and right – would like to pretend otherwise – but xenophobia, bigotry, and outright racism have been the decisive components of this referendum, which produced the dramatic shift towards Leave in the last two weeks.  The fake promises from Boris Johnson to ‘heal’ the nation – the same Johnson who profited politically from Farage’s dogwhistling and engaged in it himself – would be laughable if they weren’t contemptible.

This was a campaign in which an MP was murdered because she supported EU membership, supported refugees and immigration, yet more than half the population chose to vote for the exact opposite of what she stood for.  Faced with arguments from Nobel Prize-winning economists and political scientists who warned of the calamitous consequences of Brexit; they chose to follow instead a motley crowd of mountebanks, chancers, ideologues and demagogues who engaged in what legal expert Michael Dougan called ‘dishonesty on an industrial scale.’

These same politicians told the public not to believe in the ‘experts’, and when their arguments came apart they coolly, cynically and willfully stirred up fear and hatred towards everything foreign, whether it was ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’, rapist refugees, Turks or ‘immigrants’ in general.

It’s clear that some of those who listened to this siren song are already beginning to regret it.   Even Cornwall, which voted to leave, is now asking for the government to replace their EU fund.  They won’t be the only ones, when other regions discover that the EU actually gave them money as well as taking it.  For all the Christmas hamper promises that Brexiters made during the campaign, there is about as much chance of bailouts from the gaggle of rightwing libertarians and Tory free market zealots who brought you Independence Day as there is of snow falling in the Sahara.

It’s also questionable whether there will even be much wealth to redistribute.  China is already looking askance at further involvement in the UK financial services industry.   The EU has made it clear that the UK won’t get the same access to the single market that it had before.   The creepy fraud Farage has already been rowing back on the campaign promise that the EU’s mythical £350 million per week will go to the NHS.  Those pensioners who voted in such high numbers for Brexit may well see their state pensions decline.

And as for immigration – that great obsession of the British public, don’t expect miracles there either. Many of those who voted imagine that the 13 percent of the population that is immigrant will miraculously vanish.  But if ‘control’ over immigration means bringing numbers down to the ‘tens of thousands’, that won’t happen unless Britain withdraws from the single market.

Even then it will require even more draconian enforcement measures than those we already have to stop people coming and strip the rights from immigrants who are already here.  Expect tougher restrictions, curtailment of rights, exclusionary practices.  Expect an escalation of immigration raids, deportations, detention, ID checks etc, so our newly-independent nation can make that distinction between insiders and outsiders, natives and aliens, absolutely clear.

We might also expect an increase in street-level violence as the openly fascistic and belligerent chauvinists who welcomed Brexit see their hatreds legitimized.   There is also likely to be more anti-immigrant scapegoating as ever-more embittered sectors of the population watch the economy nose-dive  and their Brexit dreams turn sour.  We can expect an increase in verbal and physical attacks on people of colour and people with foreign accents who aren’t ‘like us.’

One of the great lies of the Brexit campaign was the notion that a post-Brexit government would welcome immigration from outside the EU – a promise that ignored decades of legislation intended to prevent entirely that outcome.  No one should hold their breath and expect this phony cosmopolitanism to be realised any time soon.

This is what we voted for on Thursday, even if we didn’t know it, thanks to a reckless gamble carried out by the most useless and destructive prime minister in the history of the country, a PR man who epitomises the arrogance and fecklessness of the British ruling class.

Some historical tragedies and catastrophes are not chosen but are inflicted by others. Like an invasion by a foreign army, say.  Others are the result of specific decisions taken from a set of options and possibilities that were also available.  The British public did not have to do what it did on Thursday, and I suspect that historians in the future will ponder for many years over the massive wound that the electorate inflicted on itself, and will struggle to understand rational reasons for that choice.   Some have described the triumph of Brexit as a victory of the ‘quiet people’ against arrogant Brussels ‘elites’.  Others have characterized it as a rebellion against the ‘establishment’ in this country.

Some sections of the left have seen Brexit as a revolt against neoliberalism and austerity. Never mind that the EU didn’t dictate the austerity policies inflicted on the country by two extremist Tory governments that used the 2007/08 crisis as a pretext for an all-out class war and an assault on the welfare state.   Never mind that many of the newspapers and politicians who supported that process are also part of the ‘establishment’ and the ‘elite’ that supported Brexit.

As anti-establishment rebellions go,  this was the political equivalent of shooting yourself in the head, or wrenching the wheel of a truck because you don’t like the direction of travel, simply in order to drive it off a cliff.

Of course there are many who don’t believe this, who think that Britain has recovered its national ‘destiny’ – as if there is such a thing.  The Daily Express – a paper that would have fitted comfortably into Nazi Germany, if you substitute the word ‘migrant’ for ‘Jew’ celebrated the triumph of its ‘glorious crusade’ today.

Brexiters may raise their glasses and jeer and tell me and others to leave. the country – I expect that we will hear a lot more of this kind of talk in the months and years to come.   Lexiters may dream of a brave new world of internationalist struggle, but I see nothing good whatsoever about the decision that was taken on Thursday and the politics that made it possible.

‘ Make good choices, ‘ Jamie Lee Curtis tells her teenage daughter in Freaky Friday.  On Thursday, the British electorate made a very bad choice indeed. Some of those who made it will be dead before these dreams and fantasies come crashing down.

The tragedy is that millions of people who didn’t make that choice will also pay for it, and will remain trapped inside a country that is now locked into a very bleak trajectory of conflict, disintegration, bitterness and anger that will dominate its politics for decades, and is likely to transform the country into something far nastier than many of us once thought possible.


In the gutter with Boris and Nigel

I don’t know if you’re enjoying the referendum readers, but I can tell you that I’m not.  I can’t think of any national political process that has taken place in my lifetime that I’ve found so constantly dispiriting and depressing on an almost daily level.  It now looks at least possible that Brexit could win, despite the fact that its three most prominent representatives, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage are three of the greatest charlatans who have ever slouched across the national stage.

That these three are not simply laughed off every forum they appear on,  is one level a testament to to the biliously rancid nationalism that is spreading across the country at the moment.  Never mind how often these three lie almost every time they open their mouths, and smoothly oil the wheels of racism.  Let them  attribute  Barack Obama’s support of the EU to his Kenyan ancestry, or warn of a mass influx of 76 million Turks.  Let them tell British women that the EU has endangered their security by allowing refugee ‘rapists’ into the country.

Such statements should be shameful, but in the current debased climate they are entirely normal, and even work in Brexit’s favour.  Every lie, every note of the dog whistle, every nudge nudge hint defamation of Johnny Foreigner  only makes these three Pied Pipers stronger, as they promise to ‘take back control’ – from a coalition of nations that Britain entered into voluntarily, as they promise ‘independence’ – from the European ’empire.’

It’s now clear that dangerously large sections of the British public, in the end, just can’t stand to share their country with foreigners.   Of course there are other ideas driving the Brexit process, but this is the big one, the driving passion that has dominated this ghoulish process   Let’s not kid ourselves that most ordinary members of the public go around worrying about.’EU red tape’ or ‘bureaucrats from Brussels’.   And as for ‘sovereignty’ – this is only a popular issue insofar as the lack of sovereignty is seen as an inability to ‘control our borders’, deport ‘foreign criminals’ etc.

Is Brexit a Trump-like rebellion of the disenfranchised against the political elite – and the detested Cameron in particular?  Maybe, up to a point, if you put aside the fact that the Tory Party’s divisions over Europe are essentially a quarrel between different sections of the ‘elite.’ No, this is ultimately about public ‘concerns’ over immigration – concerns driven by fear, prejudice and misinformation that have been whipped up relentlessly for decades by the media and the British political class.

Now we’re reaping those fruits, and boy, do they taste bitter.   In 1919 Colonel Charles Repington, a former British intelligence officer and an opponent of the Channel Tunnel, warned that the construction of a tunnel would lead to ‘the loss of our insularity and the easy access of shoals of aliens upon our shores’.  Repington was particularly worried that these ‘shoals’ would impregnate British women and ‘Latinize’ the national ‘stock.’

Brexit is a 21st century expression of this same desire for ‘insularity. ‘ Its Major Evans-Gordon and the British Brothers League, Enoch Powell and. Thatcher’s ‘swamping’ all distilled into the cheekie  chappie ex-stockbroker Nigel Farage.  In a country where too many people have come to regard immigrants  as parasites, intruders, criminals and terrorists, who give nothing, contribute nothing and take everything that ‘we’ have, the EU is evil empire that lets in too many immigrants, and leaving it offers the possibility – however remote in practice – that immigration can be stopped.

The result is a political phenomenon that represents everything that I fiind despicable about the British and the English in particular when they act collectively  – chauvinism, xenophobia, thinly-veiled racism, nativism, and selfishness.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t regard a Remain campaign led by Cameron and Osborne as a plus to put against that minus.   Nor do I see the European Union as a bastion or guarantor of progressive values.  But I have to choose between the Brexit version of Britishness or Englishness and the EU’s admittedly truncated and increasingly debauched version of internationalism, it’s no contest – I’m voting in. .

I know that the Lexit campaign would like us all to embrace a wider movement of solidarity and internationalism that extends beyond Europeanism, and if that was a realistic choice, then I would choose it.  But in practice, it isn’t.  I accept many of the Lexit criticisms of the EU, even though I think some of them are overstated.   For instance, I think that Lexit – like Brexit – has a tendency to portray the EU as much more powerful than it actually is, and too easily overlooks the fact that EU policy – on refugees for example – is dictated largely by its most powerful member states.

I also find it crudely reductionist to describe the EU as if it were nothing more than a ‘bosses’ club’ that exists solely for the ruthless exploitation of the working class.  That the EU can be ruthless is not in doubt, as in the case of Greece for example – though once again it was the weight of particular states and the absence of pan-European resistance that made that outcome possible.

But the European Union is also the largest and – until recently – the most successful attempt in history to transcend the bordered world that came into existence in the first half of the twentieth century.   Those who underestimate or downplay the significance of that achievement seem too willing to forget the destructive history of European statebuilding and interstate competition that brought about two world wars and countless others.

For sure, that outcome has to some extent been predicated on the ‘hardening’ of  the EU’s new ‘external’ borders and its catastrophic response to undocumented migration from outside the EU,  but freedom of movement within the EU, however much it serves the interests of ‘the bosses’, has also allowed millions of working people the opportunity to change and improve their lives and live outside their own borders.

Many of these people can be found living all over the UK.  What is wrong with them being here?  Why should I support a movement that essentially despises them or regards them as nothing but a problem?  Would I like to see that same freedom of movement, and the mechanisms that made it possible, extended to other countries beyond the European Union?  Yes I certainly would.

But Brexit obviously has no such agenda.  Cameron and Osborne clearly don’t have it either and prefer to bray about ‘Britain stronger in Europe’ than talk about international solidarity or opening borders.

But  Brexit, far more than Remain,  is an explicit rejection of any notion of transnational solidarity, cooperation and internationalism.  It rejects Fortress Europe only because it wants to fortify the UK even more than it already is, and these objectives are only likely to debase our political culture even further than they already have.

In this context, Lexit’s call for a ‘real’ internationalism sounds to me like a pretty chorus trying to sing Kumbaya at a gathering of satanists.   The Lexiters, like the Brexiters,  would like to demolish the entire structure of  the European Union, for very different reasons admittedly,  but the former don’t seem to me to have clear idea of what would replace it except a great deal of optimistic speculation, and – as far as I can see – no real power to replace it with anything.

Do I have any idea of what will happen if Remain wins?   No, not really.  I don’t regard a Remain victory as something to celebrate – except that it would represent a defeat for Brexit – and a demonstration that the British public rejects the shrunken, inward-looking and xenophobic nationalism that drives the Leave campaign.

That would be something to celebrate.   Apart from that, I think that the Tory party would definitely be weakened whether Remain wins or loses – the divisions have been too sharp and vicious for the contenders to miraculously converge.   On a European level, the same challenges will remain that already exist; struggles against austerity; against Fortress Europe; for greater democracy within the EU.

Can the EU be reformed, as Yanis Varoufakis and others insist it can be?  Perhaps not.   And if we get a situation where a coalition of leftwing governments decide it can’t be, and want to leave or create a different kind of union, then I know what side I’ll be on.

I find it touching that so many Lexiters who once had nothing good to say about bourgeois democracy have suddenly rediscovered their faith in parliament, if only to counterpoint it with the EU, which they now say can’t be reformed, whereas in this country we can get rid of our own government in an election.

Well we can – in theory.  But in practice we’ve had Tory governments for more than thirty years now, broken by three rightwing Labour governments.  Even after four years of one of the most extremist governments in British history, after food banks, massive cuts, work assessments, forced academisation and so much else,   the public voted in a Tory government again.

Of course that could change – conservatism isn’t written into any country’s DNA – but I don’t see how a Brexit driven by the hard right is going to make it any less so.  In fact I think the opposite is more likely to be true, and that the political forces that brought about our ‘independence’ will be strengthened and vindicated.   So I may be pessimistic, but more than that I’m alarmed, outraged and horrified by the grim, nihilistic jingoism that is driving this process closer to that outcome.

If we leave, it will be Brexit, not Lexit, wot wun it.   As the English fans in Marseille sang ‘ Fuck off Europe, we’re all voting out’.

They might be, but not all of us are, John Bull will never get my vote, even if he has blonde hair and holds a pint in his hand.

Between Europe and a Hard Place

In June the United Kingdom will decide whether or not to remain part of the European Union.  This is obviously a historic decision for the country, and it may have far wider historic implications and consequences for the whole of Europe, even if the gaggle of reactionary Little Englander or rather Great Britainer nationalists, bigots, racists and opportunistic egomaniacs seems largely indifferent to them.

I confess to a great  of ambivalence about the referendum myself.   This isn’t because of the quality of the arguments or the debate or its central campaigns.  You don’t know whether to laugh or weep when you hear the likes of Nigel Farage telling the public that all those pounds that go to Brussels could be used to pay for hospitals or ‘our NHS’,  when Farage favours marketising and privatising the NHS.  And then there are Cameron and Osborne on the other side insisting that  ‘our NHS’ depends on us staying in, when they are no less eager to flog the NHS off to their corporate pals.

So that’s the central contest, ladies and gentlemen; on the one hand Brexit – a campaign that sounds like a crunchy dog’s biscuit,  represented by the likes of Nigel Farage, Michael Gove, Theresa May, Priti Patel and Boris Johnson.  These are names to chill the blood at the best of times, and the thought that they might be empowered by a referendum victory is enough make you want to change your nationality or run weeping to the polling station crying in, in, in.

But then there is Bremain – an equally damp and dismal place that sounds like some lost Tolkeinian kingdom, represented by political hucksters like Cameron, who have lumbered leaden-footed into a referendum they didn’t even want, because their less-than-glorious triumph in limiting in-work benefits for migrant workers wasn’t enough to ease the permanent whining victimhood that keeps  certain Tories writhing in their beds at night.

Beyond this arid quarrel, there are a range of positions that  I have more sympathy with, whether it’s Yanis Varoufakis’s DiEM25 movement, Corbyn’s Social Europe redux, Greens for a Better Europe, and Lexit.

At this stage I’m inclined to vote for staying in, and not only because I feel more European than British, let alone English – or at least the version of Englishness embodied by the Brexiters.  That doesn’t mean that I have a starry-eyed view of the European Union as a bastion of progressive politics.   Far from it, I think that many of the left’s criticisms of the EU are entirely justified, whether they refer to the lack of democracy and transparency, the EU’s treatment of migrants, or its collusion in the brutal and destructive ‘discipline’ imposed on Greece and other countries during these miserable years of  austerity.

But some leftist criticisms of the EU seem to me rather crude,  and overly optimistic about what the consequences of leaving might be.  Continually referring to the EU as nothing but a ‘bosses club’ entirely minimises the historic importance of the European project in bringing to an end hundreds of years of warfare between European states, culminating in the two most destructive wars in world history.

We might take this achievement for granted now, but after World War II, there was no guarantee it would work.   The European ‘peace project’ was partly made possible by giving European states more reason to cooperate with each other than fight each other, through the development of a common space of free movement of people – as well as goods and capital.

The European Union is the largest and most successful attempt to create a supra-national community in history,   through the abolition of border checks and the painstaking construction of an array of laws and regulations that made it possible for European citizens to live and work anywhere in the continent and enjoy the same rights of residence.

This isn’t simply a question of labour exploitation by a ‘bosses’ club’; in successfully removing physical borders and paper walls that once seemed permanent and impregnable, the European Union showed what can be done elsewhere.  We all know well what the dark side of that ‘borderless’ European project has been, and its consequences for people who are not European citizens, and that deserves all the criticism it gets, and all the resistance that we can generate towards it.

But the positive side of the European project should not be ignored; the baby should not be thrown out with the bathwater – especially when the bath is being drained primarily by the right not the left.   The European project that emerged after World II was an elite-driven project for sure, but  men like Jean Monnet, Robert Schuman and even Adenauer, Churchill and de Gasperi  had far more vision and intelligence than their successors.

They recognized the destructive forces in European history and attempted to create mechanisms that could contain them, by laying the basis for a post-war (capitalist) community of nations with democracy, human rights and the rule of law as central components of Europe’s new political identity, based on the continent’s best traditions rather than its worst.

Once again, far be it from me to idealise this achievement.  We are, after all, talking about a continent that acquired much of its wealth through colonial conquest and forced labour, a continent  that produced King Leopold’s Congo,  industrialised mass murder, Hitler, Franco and Mussolini.  The European project did  not miraculously transform Europe into the embodiment of the best hopes of humankind – it simply attempted to become something better than it had been,  if only to keep more radical social forces in the continent at bay embodied by the resistance forces that emerged during World War II.

Rightwing Brexiters have no interest in any of this.  Most of them seem incapable of thinking historically at all – except through the lens of post-imperial nostalgia.  But if Britain leaves, it will very likely encourage a revanchist nationalist rejection of the European idea  across the continent to do the same thing, and for the same reasons.

At a time when the right and far right is experiencing an upsurge across the continent, when governments across Eastern Europe are using migration as a catalyst for a return to authoritarianism, I prefer the notion of a supra-national European community based on democratic political values and free movement of people to anything these movements are proposing.

Europe’s treatment of migrants – and not just the most recent response to the ‘migrant crisis’  offers myriad examples of how contingent these achievements have been, and how readily – and how shamefully – European states will depart from them when it suits them.  Indeed, Europe’s response to migration has been a moral, political and humanitarian disaster, and it may well sink the European project without any help from Brexit.

But the EU does have the kernel of a good idea, whereas the Brexiters have no good ideas at all.  I would prefer to see that kernel take a very different and more genuinely progressive and internationalist form.   There  is a tendency amongst Lexiters to act as if the European Union is entirely responsible for Fortress Europe,  for neoliberalism and austerity.

But  the European Union is still the sum of its states – some states being more powerful than others.  It didn’t decide by itself that non-European migrants would have to cross a lethal gauntlet of obstacles to get to the continent.   European states also reached the same conclusion and acted accordingly.  It isn’t the EU that stops migrants in Calais from reaching the UK – that’s something both Brexiters and Bremainers agree on.  It wasn’t the EU that reached a secret ‘pushback’ agreement with Libya to send back refugees without giving them a chance to apply for asylum – the Italian government did that all by itself.

Even when the EU has tried – pathetically – to ask member states to resettle 160,000 refugees, these quotas were ignored.  So staying in the EU will not – as things stand – do anything to change this situation, but leaving it will not empower it the forces opposed to the ‘fortress’ model.

Some Lexiters have said that predictions of a Brexit ‘carnival of reaction’ have been overdone, and that immigration and racism have not been overt in the debate. This is disingenuous.  Racism and xenophobia are what made this referendum possible.  Anti-immigrationism has been the driving force behind opposition to the EU for decades. Take that away, and all you are left with is a handful of fake arguments and bitter post-imperial whining about ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’, the loss of national sovereignty and ‘getting our country back’

I cannot stand the prospect of seeing the country cut off politically from the rest of the continent and marooned with these forces.  I supported the Oxi vote, and I would have supported a ‘breakout’ from the Eurozone by Greece and countries seeking to escape austerity.  I still would.  But that isn’t what’s on offer here.  What we have is Farage and Johnson.

Lexit arguments, even when they are good, remain marginal arguments.  If Brexit wins, it will be the right wot wun it.  And I won’t  be part of that.   So I’m staying in, with gritted teeth.