Kolektivně proti kapitálu October/November 2016 . .
The idea of holding a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU began as a promise by then Prime Minister Cameron to the “Euroskeptic” right wing of the Tory Party in January 2013.1 The Tories won the general election in May 2015 with an overall parliamentary majority so they had to go through with it. On 23 June 2016, a majority of UK citizens who turned out to vote (certainly not a majority of registered voters, much less a majority of the adult population), 52%, voted in favor of leaving the European Union.
The most important thing to understand is that nobody expected the Leave vote to win, least of all the “Brexiteers” themselves! Britain’s major political parties were not prepared for it, and neither were most big companies (despite the modern focus on “business continuity” and “disaster recovery”). The consequences of this are that the Tory Party, the Labour Party and even UKIP (the party whose whole raison d’être was Brexit) were thrown into crisis and the economy is sinking as uncertainty delays investment and complicates terms of trade.
The Leave vote can certainly be seen as a kind of “protest vote” — this was clearly demonstrated by the fact that the “Leavers” didn’t expect to win and had no idea what to do when they did! It can be seen as part of the rise of “right-wing nihilism.” In the 1970s it was punks, hippies, and anarchists who said “fuck the system” without caring too much about what to replace it with — now it’s disaffected nationalists and social conservatives. Antiglobalization is the modern “socialism of fools” (as leading German Social Democrat, August Bebel said of antisemitism).2 It’s an ideology which really grew to prominence among the liberal left in the 1990s, but now it’s increasingly the right — Trump, Putin, UKIP, Front Nationale, etc. — who are its standard-bearers.
On a global level, victory for the Leave campaign is part of a wider tendency towards economic protectionism and isolationism (accompanied by bigger or smaller doses of racism and xenophobia) facilitated by a rise of political “populists”3 — “populist” in the sense of just spouting a collection of crowd-pleasing slogans with no concrete program addressing either the material concerns of their followers or the problems faced by capital accumulation.
The EU migrants’ ordeal and the limits of direct action
We begin this article with a case dealt with by Brighton Solfed (SF) and CASE Central social center — the story of an EU migrant in Brighton.
At the end of 2015, L., a Spanish hospitality worker, sought help from SF. She had worked in a restaurant for more than a year but, as soon as she fell ill, her employer sacked her with a flimsy excuse, in order to avoid paying Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). Receiving SSP would have been this worker’s right under both domestic and European Union (EU) legislation. However, the employer insisted that she left her job voluntarily, and refused to re-employ here.
One then claimed a sickness benefit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). As an EU worker, she should have been entitled to equal rights under EU legislation, and to ESA. However, the state refused the benefit: they said that, due [to] a “gap” between the end of her job and her claim, she was no longer a “worker” when she claimed ESA. A benefits advice group helped with an appeal, but the state refused to reconsider. L. was in a desperate situation, with no money and far from her family, and was tempted to move back to Spain. This would amount to economic deportation — not imposed through physical force, but through extreme hardship.
Back in [the] 1970s the UK’s membership of the European Common Market was opposed by left-wing militants, as the Common Market was seen as a neoliberal club designed to prevent the advance of socialism, or just the implementation of Keynesian policies. Continue reading →
The amount of leftist posturing around the issue of Brexit exists in inverse proportion to the actual potential of the situation, which as everyone knows is zilch. It reflects the flailing impotence of the contemporary Left and the total absence of a viable proletarian or internationalist alternative. Neither the vote to leave nor the vote to remain is radical in the least.
Several months ago, in their official statement on the matter, the Communist Party of Great Britain therefore observed: “Cameron’s referendum is a cynical maneuver that pits reactionaries against other reactionaries… Likewise, the ‘out’ campaign is dominated by noxious chauvinism, [aiming to replace] ‘Fortress Europe’ with the stronger ‘Fortress Britain’.” From Cardiff a voice justly proclaims a pox upon both Britannia and Europa, advising abstention from this plebiscitary farce.
Yet even the call for communists to abstain feels like something of an empty gesture given the current context. Mike Macnair, one of the authors of the aforementioned statement, has basically said as much. “Boycotting the vote is what I am arguing for,” explained Macnair at a panel organized by Platypus in London. “Had we more forces, I’d argue not merely for a boycott but to disrupt this vote as a sham, a fraud, and an anti-democratic initiative.”
Amidst the cacophony and confusion a quote from Lev Trotsky has resurfaced, which echoes uncannily across the ages and seems to speak to the present dilemma. While the constellation of forces is no doubt quite different, and Marxists should refrain from drawing hasty historic parallels, the quote is nevertheless well suited to the task of trolling left Brexiteers — for example the Swappers (slang for members of the British Socialist Workers Party), as well as the independent Trot septuagenarian Tariq Ali:
If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward as compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to “autonomous” national states, but for the conversion of the imperialist state trust into a European Republican Federation.
Meanwhile, Sp!ked has been running a public campaign in support of the Brexit. The whole thing has been an embarrassment, painful to watch, with Neil Davenport holding fast to a naïve majoritarian model of democracy. “Particular people seem not to trust ordinary people to vote the right way in an election. So how would they feel about them taking over the means of production?” As if this were not simply repeating the same populist platitudes always inimical to revolutionary Marxism. Continue reading →