The headlines following from Saturday’s People’s Vote demo have, understandably, focused on its size. Organisers say 670,000 people took part.
If true, that is bigger than the Trump demo this summer. It’s plausible that it was bigger that the anti-austerity March for the Alternative in 2011, at the height of the public-sector strikes. It’s possibly the largest since the anti-war demonstrations in 2003-4.
Whatever the truth, it certainly dwarfed the overwhelming majority of protests that have taken place in recent years.
Workers’ Liberty took part in the “left bloc” organised by Another Europe is Possible. The bloc was loud and vibrant and visible. It foregrounded migrants’ rights, anti-racism and freedom of movement and, by and large, was warmly received by others marching on the demo, with only the odd fracas with disgruntled Liberal Democrats.
All those that took part should be proud, because it was a much needed intervention into a Remain movement that, though largely well-meaning, is politically vacuous.
There’s no use shying away from the fact that the “left-bloc” could never have been more than a drop in the ocean. It punched above its weight, but it was only hundreds, in a sea of hundreds of thousands. The organised left was almost entirely absent.
Over recent months public opinion has steadily shifted towards Remain, in a context of no official support from either of the two main parties, and minimal activity from the wider labour movement.
And yet, despite an almost universal failure of leadership by the left, over half a million people took to the streets. Yes — they were mostly liberal. Yes — we are socialists, and want to stop Brexit for different, and better, reasons. But the fact that our politics have not transmitted into a militant, socialist Remain movement is not their fault, but ours.
Let’s imagine how much bigger our demonstrations could be — and how much further we could shift opinion, not just to remain but to the left — if the Labour Party came out strongly against Brexit.
At conference, the party’s leadership used the unions to stamp on the membership, and we came out with a fudge policy. All options on the table, and no guarantee of a referendum on the deal despite overwhelming support for it.
As a result the Remain movement is still being led by the political establishment, by centrist dads and liberals. If this continues then it will not be able to advocate a programme capable of solving the problems at the root of the Brexit vote.
As socialists, we need to provide the antidote to the scapegoating of migrants, and offer solutions to the housing crisis, poverty and a collapse in our public services.
Next time hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets, we must make our intervention needs bigger and louder.
Let’s hope the rest of the left turns up.