‘Neither Brexit nor austerity’ – the People’s Assembly and the yellow vest movement in Britain

Pitting austerity against Brexit is misleading workers into supporting the interests of British imperialism and dividing rather than uniting workers in struggle.

Proletarian writers

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'Britain is Broken' demonstration organised by the People's Assembly in January 2019.

Proletarian writers

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Note: At the time of writing, this line of the People’s Assembly has only been propagated by email to its subscribers; it has not as far as we can tell been publicised on the organisation’s website.


On 12 January 2018, the streets of central London from Portland Place to Trafalgar Square saw the march of the ‘People’s Assembly Against Austerity’ (PAA), along with a plethora of other ‘left’ groups, such as Stop the War (StW), Momentum and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).

Many marchers were sporting ‘gilets jaunes’ in solidarity with the weekly uprisings of the yellow-vested French workers, who have been living up to their militant traditions of late. The French are proving to the workers of Europe and beyond – as far afield as Egypt, where the government has recently felt the need to restrict the sale of hi-vis vests – that the best way to frighten our rulers into submission to workers’ demands is to have a presence on the streets.

Merely showing up is not enough, however. For a street presence to be effective in forcing any government to concede reforms, it must be properly organised through competent leadership, which is able to mobilise the crowds in their own self-protection and defence if and when they come under physical attack by the ruthless, highly-trained and well-armed forces of the state.

Political leadership is also required to offer the crowds a coherent programme of action and a list of demands that demonstrations want to force the government to take steps to meet.

The ‘People’s Assembly’ march in London, despite its ‘solidarity’ nod towards the militants in France, was in fact the complete opposite of such an effective oppositional force.

The leadership of the People’s Assembly, which consists entirely of labour-aristocratic members of the left wing of the Labour party (eg, shadow chancellor John McDonnell) and its Trotskyite and revisionist fellow travellers, were all present.

The event was far from being any kind of inclusive, ‘horizontalist’ platform (as its leaders like to pretend). On the contrary, the speakers were all carefully preselected to ensure that there were no defectors from the line of ‘vote Labour’ as the solution for all the ills against which the demonstrators are protesting. Some anarchists were observed trying to mount the platform and being shoved away by the police – to stop them spoiling the ‘inclusive’ vibe of the ‘horizontalist’ platform.

But then again, why wouldn’t these labour opportunists be holding hands with the police? They will need to get used to barking orders on behalf of the imperialist state if their much longed-for electoral heyday finally comes.

‘Neither Brexit nor austerity’ – a programme of social imperialism

Officially, the line of the People’s Assembly is that “Austerity, not Brexit, is the key political issue of our time.” This could mean one of either two things. Either 1. it could mean exactly what it says: that Brexit is a mere distraction from the ‘key political issue’, which is government cuts; or 2. it could mean: ‘We’re against austerity but not against Britain’s membership of the European Union.’

The ambiguity is easier to understand when we realise how deeply divided the Labour party is on the issue of whether to support or oppose Brexit, with most of its MPs and even most of its ardent Corbynista members in favour of remaining, while most of its electoral heartlands strongly support leaving – a situation which in bourgeois politics obviously demands a fudge.

But the objective interests of British imperialism lie in avoiding Brexit, so any organisation that calls itself ‘socialist’ but opposes Brexit, or which prefers a fudge to a no-deal Brexit, is taking a class-collaborationist line by asking the working class to defend the interests of imperialism.

In the end, it doesn’t actually matter whether we take the assembly’s leaders at face value or if we try to read between the lines; both possible interpretations are thoroughly opportunistic. If we examine them a little more closely, we will see how the People’s Assembly is acting as a front for social imperialism (that is: socialism in words but imperialism in deeds).

Taking the first reading, the People’s Assembly is arguing that Brexit is a mere distraction from the ‘key political issue’: austerity. But the working class voted for Brexit as a protest against austerity. While there may have been some who did so in the belief that it was the EU that was responsible for austerity, since this is an excuse that the British ruling class had been dishing out so as not to be blamed for the dire effects of the capitalist crisis, the real value of Brexit lies in the effect it will have (should it materialise) in weakening not only British imperialism, but also European imperialism and, by extension, probably also US imperialism.

The weaker imperialism is, then, relatively speaking, the stronger the working class and progressive forces in the world are. That is our party stands by Brexit, and why we do so in spite of the fact that, as we are careful to explain, a weaker imperialist ruling class is likely to find its spoils from looting the oppressed countries much reduced – as a result of which it will be bound to redouble its efforts to impose hardship on the working class at home.

It is clear there is no ‘quick fix’ for workers’ problems within the present system. Capitalist imperialism constantly breeds crisis and war. But communists are not afraid to state these problems clearly. We do not attempt to deceive or distract the workers as the opportunists (and all bourgeois politicians) do. Nor are we ever afraid to voice our disagreements with workers who have been misled into holding and propagating reactionary or incorrect views.

We are building our party with firm foundations on the solid ground of material reality, aiming to make it the organised and scientifically advanced detachment of the working class, and we are training our cadres to uphold that duty. This is what makes true communists united, courageous and incorruptible; this is what makes them the only force capable of leading the British working class to revolution.

To this end, we are not for a moment trivialising the problem of austerity to privilege the issue of Brexit or vice versa. With good reason do we put forward the slogan: ‘Labour, Tory, same old story’. Both parties serve the imperialist ruling class; both parties play a game with the workers at the expense of the working-class movement, creating false narratives and pitting one issue against the other in an attempt to make us believe that they are mutually exclusive.

Our party refuses to play these games; we expose both austerity and Britain’s membership of the EU as two of the many examples of the way in which our imperialist rulers’ interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the workers.

Loyalty to the imperialist EU from leaders of the ‘working-class movement’

Returning to the People’s Assembly, the second reading of their policy also supports our view of the scoundrels who run that organisation. It is perfectly clear that the bulk of the leadership of this ‘anti-austerity’ movement are indeed in favour of Britain remaining a part of the imperialist bosses’ club.

This is to be expected of the labour aristocracy, also known as ‘the left elite’, whose careers and immediate economic interests are tied to the wellbeing of British imperialism.

These ‘left’ Labourites and their ‘leftie’ supporters expect to keep receiving their petty privileges on the understanding that they play ball with imperialism – because those material privileges rest upon the exploitation and carving up of poor countries in the oppressed world.

Of course, the European Union does exactly what it was designed to do: to prevent another inter-European war – that is, to ensure that the relations between the European imperialist powers are peaceful and their forces are combined so they can focus on waging war in Africa and the middle east; so they can cooperate with the US’s reckless drives to war against Russia, China, north Korea and Iran.

In a word, so they can maintain the continual exploitation of oppressed countries in eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Furthermore, the European Union has gone on to play exactly the role predicted by Lenin in his article on a United States of Europe. Such a union, he said, would be “either impossible or reactionary” in the context of capitalism and imperialism.

So far, we see the proof only of the second of these propositions, although the rifts gradually tearing the EU apart are also there to be seen, but Lenin was absolutely correct in his characterisation of any temporary union under capitalism as necessarily reactionary: the European Union, under the context of capitalism and imperialism, is indeed fundamentally reactionary.

The EU is reactionary not only because it plays the effective role of a bloc of European imperialism and as a key ally of US imperialism manifested in Nato, but also because it allows Europe’s imperialist rulers jointly to suppress dangers arising from any reactivated working-class movement anywhere in Europe.

The last thing Labour opportunists want is to have the real reasons for their allegiance to this anti-worker force exposed by pesky proletarians!

The EU was established at a time when socialism threatened the very existence of capitalism in Europe. With German and French imperialism in tatters and British imperialism seriously weakened, it was only the intervention of the USA with military and financial support that allowed the German, French, Dutch, Italian and Greek ruling classes to live to fight another day.

Revolution in Greece was forcibly repressed; in Italy, democratic elections were subverted by the largest injection of foreign (American) cash that had ever been seen. No effort was spared to stop the advance of the ‘red menace’ – that is, of the rising working class.

The concession of the welfare state to workers in western Europe also played a key role in this process, lulling them into believing they could have the benefits of revolution without the need for actually taking over state power or control of the means of production – that is, without removing the capitalist class or the capitalist system. Combining was the European imperialists’ best way to survive and recover when they were so weakened individually.

The anticommunist nature of the EU was its founding principle and remains at the heart of its mission. Establishing a communist party is illegal in large swathes of the Balkans and Baltics today, and that ban will certainly spread if and when communists in other member states start to pose a serious threat to the capitalist order.

Calls to remain in the European Union by the so-called ‘far left’ have allegedly been inspired by an idealistic and puerile ambition to turn it into some ‘socialist European federation’. In Lenin’s time there were similar calls, which even went as far as calls to establish a world government in the context of capitalism and imperialism.

To such a prospect, our party would repeat Lenin’s prediction that such an ultra-imperialist construct could never come about in practice, because long before the various imperialists could ever resolve their various contradictions, all imperialism and capitalism would have been overthrown by the exploited and oppressed classes and replaced by socialism.

Both calls to establish world/regional governments, and then to transform them into ‘socialist conglomerations’ are rooted in Trotskyite illusions that revolution and socialist construction are somehow impossible to sustain in a single country, but this is simply not the case.

On the contrary, we can and must make revolution and build socialism in Britain as soon as we are able, no matter whether the movement in other countries is lagging behind or far in advance of our own. Cheerleading the growth of regional or global powers that strengthen imperialism will only hinder us in this process.

That is why Lenin’s article on a united Europe is often quoted to prove how Trotsky’s theory of ‘permanent revolution’ is totally at odds with Leninism – how Trotskyism is at odds with the science of working-class revolution.

Infighting prevents the rise of a unified yellow vest movement

The control by the social-imperialist labour aristocracy over the anti-austerity faction of the yellow vest movement will drive whatever working-class militancy the yellow vests arouse into the abyss. The only way to avoid this is to ruthlessly purge the movement of these rotten elements

The anti-austerity yellow vest marchers vastly outnumbered the pro-Brexit yellow vest demonstrators – the latter being ostracised as this monolithic monster: the dreaded ‘right’. Even with the tremendous numbers imbalance, the pro-Brexit demonstrators put the anti-austerity marchers to shame with their courage and militancy. They are not led by labour aristocrats but are made up almost entirely of members of the poorer sections of the working class.

If some of them have gravitated towards right-wing bourgeois parties rather than a so-called left-wing bourgeois party like Labour, might that have anything to do with the fact that the Labour party is so overwhelmingly anti-Brexit? Might it have something to do with the experience of so many impoverished workers of decades of Labour rule?

And if many of them are motivated by the false belief that immigrants are the cause of austerity, haven’t the Labour and Tory parties spent years trying to outdo each other in anti-immigrant measures; in promoting the false idea that immigrants are a problem? Do they not still do so?

We need look no further than Paris to imagine what we can achieve if we combine the sheer numbers of the anti-austerity yellow vests with the militancy of the pro-Brexit yellow vests, who ought to be natural allies in the fight for working-class liberation. Is it any wonder, then, that the loyal (to the ruling class) leaders of our so-called ‘anti-austerity movement’ (the same movement that has failed to prevent a single cut in ten years) do all they can to prevent such a working-class alliance from growing?

We need to purge our movement of all opportunism, to unite all sections of the working class, and to give our movement a centralised will and drive. Such a movement will put the fear of god into the hearts of our ruling class and force its hand into delivering serious concessions – just as the French proletariat are presently doing to Macron and the French ruling class.