Return to Recent Articles menu
Brexit: The Hangover
by D.R.O’Connor Lysaght
27 June 2016
The good news is that the British electorate has dealt a major blow to the liberal capitalist consensus that has guide the politics of western (and, from 1991, eastern) Europe since the Second World War. How bad the damage is uncertain, nonetheless Brexit has brought to the surface a crisis comparable to that which destroyed the Soviet Union. The citizens of the country with the second strongest economy in the European Union have voted to leave it. This is a serious vote of no confidence in the status quo.
Now for the bad news. The blow came from the right. The vote is not against the fact that the EU is to be described most favourably as a guided democracy. As Cameron recognised in his negotiations, democratisation would be opposed by his Eurosceptics (not to mention UKIP) as they would recognise it as legitimising union. Those who voted Leave voted essentially against Europe as such. Despite the word “democracy” being bandied by its advocates, Brexit was above all a nationalist vote, and, from the result, an English nationalist vote. The position of England in the world decided the fact that the European project was opposed increasingly and overwhelmingly on grounds xenophobic and racist. In today’s (27/06) Irish Times, an ornament of the diaspora, Rory Fitzgerald raves about how Brexit is the start of a democratic process to win self-determination for Europe’s nations from the EU. He does not name two of his most prominent fellow thinkers, Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders. Apart from the obvious flaws in their democratic credentials, each represents a stronger country in the union. They would leave Germany alone to metropolise the weaker countries. This will leave Europe to be split between western and central-eastern spheres of influence, as before the First World War. One incipient imperialist state will be replaced by rival imperialist blocs once more.
This was always clear enough, yet it did not stop the larger part of the British broad left, including the Communist Party and parts of left Labour from campaigning for Brexit. Of course, the CP claims to believe that a socialist society can be “actually achieved” within a nation state. What of its fellow left Brexiteers? It appears that they saw the EU as an oppressive nation state that blocked progressive innovations by its members. In fact, the EU is not a state, much as its governors would like it to become one. It is an administrative body for finance capital, with no coercive arm. When it humiliated Greece, it had no Panzers, just finance capital’s routine withdrawal of credit and the inexperience and spinelessness of that country’s elected ministers. Moreover, Britain is not Greece; in or out of the EU, it is in a strong position to defy the Union’s dictats with impunity. The capitalist politicians who preach Brexit know that that that union has performed a useful function as a scapegoat for their own chosen austerity policies. They moved still to break from it because of its “rules and regulations”, more specifically (outside UKIP they are not itemised) those rules and regulations protecting women’s rights, the environment and, of course, work conditions, all of which stand in the way of the profit maximisation that they see as necessary to economic growth for them and then perhaps their employees. They could not repeal these without opposition from above (the EU) and below (the working people). Now they need only fear the latter, rely on the workers movement’s supine leaders and on the fear of immigrants as the real enemy. If this seems far-fetched, it is only necessary to remember how the industrial bosses of Ulster used sectarianism as a productive force. The one bright spot in that comparison is that the Ulster bosses were able to grow as part of a world growing industrial capitalism; today’s Eurobosses have a diminishing share of the international market. In or out of the EU, their dominance will see austerity getting worse, and resistance to it increasing.
So: how to fight back? The call for a Europe-wide Anti-Austerity campaign is correct in itself but it has to be a genuine united front and not just a cover for one particular international group. There are more specific problems in such a construction. Post Brexit, it is likely that it will be opposed by more determined and openly nationalist (if not xenophobic) governments. On past form, the official working class leaderships will fail to oppose them adequately if, indeed, they don’t capitulate altogether. (Already the Anti-Corbynites are calling for their party to “recognise genuine working class concerns” about immigration.) To win, these fakirs must be recognised as being as much enemies of the class they claim to represent as the old soviet bureaucrats.
After Brexit, working class resistance will be more difficult. It will not be impossible.
Return to top of page