Workers Hammer No. 236
No reversal — Britain out now!
Yuppie howl of rage over Brexit
The 23 June vote for Britain to leave the European Union (EU) sent tremors around the world, buffeting the financial markets and plunging the pound to its lowest value in three decades. Coming after the crises over the strangulation of Greece and the mass influx of refugees last year, the Brexit vote dealt the most severe blow to date to the EU, further destabilising what is already a highly unstable imperialist consortium and fanning anti-EU sentiment throughout Europe. Not surprisingly, the Blairite right wing of the Labour Party joined with pro-EU Tories in campaigning for a remain vote and now seek to overturn the ballot. Shamefully, Jeremy Corbyn also campaigned for a vote in favour of the EU, thus trampling on the interests of the many working people who look to him for a lead. To his credit, unlike the Blairite challenger for the party leadership, Owen Smith, and his backers, Corbyn has said that the Brexit vote must be respected. We say: Down with the EU! No reversal — Britain out now!
Through the mechanism of the EU, the dominant German — along with the British and French — imperialists combine to attack the living standards of all European workers, from Greece to Germany, while riding roughshod over the weaker capitalist countries of southern and eastern Europe. The bankers of Frankfurt, Paris and London have imposed crippling austerity on the people of Greece, bringing that country to its knees. We Marxists oppose the EU on principle, as we do the single currency, the euro, which has been the instrument for the subjugation and immiseration of the Greek working people. In a 24 June statement of the Spartacist League Central Committee welcoming the vote against the EU (Workers Hammer no 235, Summer 2016), we declared:
“This is a stunning defeat for the City of London, for the bosses and bankers of Europe as a whole as well as for Wall Street and the US imperialist government. The vote to leave is an expression of hostility from the downtrodden and dispossessed not only to the EU but to the smug British ruling establishment, whose devastation of social services and industry has plunged whole sections of the proletariat into penury.”
The vote for Brexit was particularly strong among the working class and poor, most notably in the formerly industrial regions of northern England, Wales and the Midlands. As one woman in the impoverished neighbourhood of Collyhurst in Manchester told journalist John Harris (himself an ardent supporter of remain), “If you’ve got money, you vote in” and “If you haven’t got money, you vote out” (Guardian, 24 June). A recent study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that 58 per cent of voters living in households earning less than £20,000 a year voted for Brexit, while only 35 per cent of those from families earning over £60,000 did. Among the unemployed, 59 per cent voted to leave. The report’s author, Professor Matthew Goodwin, concludes: “This research reveals how the referendum was not simply about our relationship with the European Union but also shed light on the deep divides that exist in our society” (Guardian, 31 August).
At the same time, the vote to leave provoked an outcry among disappointed pro-EU liberals, particularly in London. Venting their frustration, they heaped contempt especially on the workers and poor in the economically devastated regions who voted overwhelmingly to leave. The petty-bourgeois supporters of the EU see in the European bosses’ club an opportunity to more freely partake of continental culture or to launch trendy start-ups; union-busting austerity and immigrant concentration camps are for them largely an occasion to express remorse over “the state of things”. Left-liberal journalist John Pilger captured something of the quality of such types:
“The most effective propagandists of the ‘European ideal’ have not been the far right, but an insufferably patrician class for whom metropolitan London is the United Kingdom. Its leading members see themselves as liberal, enlightened, cultivated tribunes of the 21st century zeitgeist, even ‘cool’. What they really are is a bourgeoisie with insatiable consumerist tastes and ancient instincts of their own superiority. In their house paper, the Guardian, they have gloated, day after day, at those who would even consider the EU profoundly undemocratic, a source of social injustice and a virulent extremism known as ‘neoliberalism’.”
—“Why the British said no to Europe”, johnpilger.com, 25 June
Since the referendum, the staunchly pro-EU Blairites have orchestrated a campaign to ignore or otherwise subvert the referendum result. On 2 July, Blairite MP David Lammy, having decried the vote as “madness”, joined a crowd of tens of thousands in London amid a sea of EU flags and slogans such as “I Will Always Love EU” and “Hell no, we won’t go” (Guardian, 2 July). Another “March for Europe” took place in London on 3 September, with the backing of arch-Blairite Chuka Umunna. Writing in the New European, a weekly newspaper launched for the sole purpose of opposing the Brexit vote, Tony Blair’s notorious former spin doctor Alastair Campbell called for a new referendum. And Owen Smith made the commitment to overturn the referendum result a central plank in his dismal Labour leadership bid against Jeremy Corbyn.
To believe the Blairites and their mouthpieces at the Guardian and the BBC, the 17 million who voted against the EU consisted simply of Tory/UKIP Colonel Blimps and dull-witted racist “chavs”. The hard-core racists and fascists did indeed seize on the Brexit vote to step up their race-hate provocations. But the sudden outpouring of concern in the bourgeois media over racism against immigrants (not to mention against Britain’s blacks and Asians) is intended to buttress their case for continued British membership of the EU.
Try telling the many thousands sleeping rough or in detention centres on the southern edges of the EU or in Turkey that the EU (aka racist “Fortress Europe”) is a haven for the persecuted and oppressed. What turned these huddled masses into immigrants and refugees in the first place are the neocolonial wars and depredations carried out by the US, Britain and other European imperialist powers. Contrary to the fatuous illusion that the EU protects the “free movement” of immigrants, the EU is a capitalist cartel whose overriding concern is the free movement of capital among its member states. In that context, the movement of labour is manipulated to suit the needs of competing capitalists in the EU countries. Immigrant workers from poorer EU states are used as a pool of low-wage labour. Nobody should be fooled that the status of East European immigrants would be guaranteed if Britain were to remain in the EU.
With the 2004 enlargement of the EU to Eastern Europe, EU member states placed temporary restrictions on entry to citizens from these countries. In Britain, the Labour government of the time reduced their access to welfare benefits, while whipping up anti-immigrant racism. Labour’s current deputy leader Tom Watson, who was prominent in the remain campaign, advocates competing with UKIP for the racist vote, arguing that the EU should look at changes to “the free movement of labour rules” and controls on immigration should be a priority for a future Labour government (BBC, 14 June).
The answer to racist terror and anti-immigrant chauvinism does not lie in looking to the good graces of the EU, or any of the rapacious capitalist rulers, but in mobilising the multiracial and multinational proletariat at the head of all the oppressed. The workers movement in Britain, as elsewhere, must fight for: No deportations! Full citizenship rights for all who make it here! Trade union/minority mobilisations against fascist provocations! Down with racist Fortress Europe!
The various reformist groups who called for a leave vote did so not out of principled opposition to the EU imperialist cartel but rather because the EU’s ravaging of the Greek working people had made any hint of support to it toxic. Once the referendum was over, the various opportunists who had half-heartedly campaigned for a “left exit” vote tried to work both sides of the street for fear of offending pro-remain liberals. Thus while numerous left groups were present at a pro-Corbyn rally in London on 27 June, only the Spartacist League featured placards opposing the EU. Several days later, at the Socialist Workers Party’s annual Marxism event, SWP leader Charlie Kimber said: “Many people who voted for remain did so for reasons that we sympathise with. We don’t agree with their position, but we understand it” (available on YouTube).
The fact that a vote for Brexit could be portrayed as stemming from UKIP-style racism is in large part down to the betrayal by the existing leadership of the working class, which did not provide a working-class pole of opposition to the EU and thus ceded the ground to the racists. In place of class struggle, the Labour Party and the trade union bureaucracy, along with their counterparts in Europe such as the German Social Democratic Party and the French Socialist Party, have promoted absurd illusions in the EU as a guarantor of workers rights and a sanctuary for the oppressed.
The most vigorous struggle against the EU remains integral to the fight to forge revolutionary workers parties in Britain and around Europe, sections of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International, to lead the proletariat to victory and open the road to a Socialist United States of Europe as part of a soviet world federation.