Last June, voters in the United Kingdom were asked, in a referendum, if they wanted to remain part of the European Union or leave the bloc, now commonly referred to as "Brexit."
The Brexit side prevailed by a small margin and the U.K. parliament is expected to soon vote to formally start the process of negotiating Brexit with the EU. George Galloway, a former Labour party MP and long-time progressive activist, answered some questions of mine about Brexit.
Joe Emersberger: UK progressives were generally horrified by the win for the Brexit side because there were certainly racist and xenophobic forces emboldened by it. You, however, made a left-wing case for Brexit. Could you outline what that was?
George Galloway: I reject your premise. Britain's communists, Trotskyists and left-wing trades unionists campaigned for a Leave vote as did the left's only daily newspaper the Morning Star.
I think you mean liberal rather than progressive.
It is true that some who might have preferred to do otherwise were by circumstances obliged to argue for a Remain vote. People like Jeremy Corbyn with whom I opposed the EU in the British parliament for nearly 30 years, and some of the major union leaders.
Most importantly the British working class voted leave. The vast majority of constituencies with Labour MPs voted Leave. The majority of the low paid voted leave.
There is nothing progressive about the EU as we said in 1975 in our “No” vote campaign under the leadership of Tony Benn, the greatest progressive leader we've ever had in Britain.
The EU has nothing to do with internationalism nor with anti-racism as those suffering the lash of racism and islamophobia in mainland Europe know. And those sinking in the Mediterranean trying and failing to enter Fortress Europe know.
It is nothing to do with peace either, as the people of Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Iraq, Libya Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Mali and others know. The EU is the political wing of NATO.
It has nothing to do with workers’ rights and economic justice, either, as the people of Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland know. The EU is an anti-democratic bankers ramp whose neo-liberal austerity agenda has beggared Europe whilst imposing as economic orthodoxy the "principles" of globalization and the strangling of the idea of democratic control by people and peoples of their own lives.
It is being rejected everywhere in Europe and will soon be gone. People will not accept being ruled by those they did not elect and cannot remove. This is the spirit of our age.
Emersberger: Wasn’t racism partly what drove a backlash against “freedom of movement” for workers with the EU?
Galloway: Racism existed before the EU and within and without it. It must be fought by all right thinking people whatever their views on the EU.
The first and greatest victims of the so-called "freedom of movement" EU rules were Britain's Black and Asian workers, who have been disproportionately represented in the ranks of the poorly paid, poorly housed, unemployed and under-employed.
The increase in the labour supply by employers bringing in very low paid workers from east and Central Europe, mainly white by the way, put them out of work or depressed their wages and conditions first of all.
The pressure on pitifully poor public services and on rents in the private sector after decades of under-investment by successive British governments was all too obviously increased by so called freedom of movement. At least to the poor and other working class British people.
Emersberger: Will leaving the EU, by itself, solve those problems?
Galloway: EU rules and indeed constitutions make impossible, even illegal, the kind of changes Britain needs. Public ownership of vital services and industries, state intervention in the economy, protection of strategic activity like steel production, are all forbidden by the neo-liberal articles of the EU.
As a socialist, I believe in a planned economy, not the laissez-faire of capitalism.
It was, therefore, an article of faith for me to oppose the EU.
The leaving of the EU is a necessary but not sufficient condition for advance for Britain and it's working class. In other words, leaving does not guarantee that advance. Staying precluded that advance.
If the EU was a progressive cause then it would not have been supported by Big Capital in the City of London, by almost all of British capitalism, by the BBC and Whitehall, by Britain's mainstream political class, by most of the media. Or by Tony Blair.
I am European and I believe in Europe and its peoples. But I oppose the EU for the reasons above.
For the avoidance of doubt; I am a child of Irish immigrants, I am the father of two Arab and two Indonesian children, my wife is Dutch-Indonesian. I have represented more Black and minority ethnic people, more immigrants in parliament than any other MP in the history of Britain, having been for nearly 30 years the MP for Glasgow, London's East End and the huge immigrant population of Bradford. Nobody could be more internationalist, less nationalist, more anti-racist than me.