Clashing views on the Brexit vote

June 30, 2016

The UK referendum vote to leave the European Union has led to an ongoing debate about why the vote went the way it did and what the left's next steps should be. Here, two readers of SocialistWorker.org weigh in.

A vote against inequality

THE BRITISH vote to leave the European Union is the result of the nation's unconscionable inequality, the destruction of the working class, the glorification of the financial elite, and a repudiation of the condescension and contempt of the political and media elite towards ordinary people.

Now, it is up to us to organize and fight for migrants' and workers' rights.

Recall that the vote only took place because one wealthy, provincial, small-minded Tory (Prime Minister David Cameron) wanted to strengthen his position as leader of a breathtakingly mean-spirited and racist Tory party so that he could stay in his position of privilege and status. He wanted to superficially "unite" the Conservatives ahead of the election in 2015 with the promise that he would allow this vote.

The vote then became an opportunity for another wealthy, provincial, small-minded Tory (Boris Johnson) to attempt to advance his petty, egoistic ambition to have the same privilege and status as Cameron--his former classmate at an exclusive, stuck-up private school for elitist snobs.

Image from SocialistWorker.org

Johnson was joined by the UK Independence Party's Nigel Farage, the political leader of Britain's petite bourgeoisie--the racist, white, union-hating businessmen and con artist who had achieved some measure of wealth off of the backs of British workers and whose single-minded concern was to pay less tax and rip up the remaining workers' rights that the Tories haven't yet reduced to ashes.

The elite British and international media have been almost entirely obsessed with the racist, anti-migrant hate spat out by extremists like Farage, and it is true that Cameron and the Tories are responsible for allowing xenophobia, authoritarianism, racism and fascism to find an expression in their irresponsible, narcissistic internal fight over who gets to lead their political party.

But demonizing and dismissing 15 million working-class Britons as "racist," "ignorant" or "uneducated" reveals more about the media than about the reasons for which so many rejected the advice of their supposed "betters."

The Tories took power 37 years ago and have never left. Even when the political leaders supposedly in charge claimed adherence to another party, the decimation of working-class communities and the industries that actually made something--and the glorification of the financial elite running the nation as an unregulated casino while contributing nothing to society--continued.

Readers’ Views

SocialistWorker.org welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

Steelworkers, dockers, shipbuilders, miners, print workers, car workers, rail workers--their unions, their communities, their families, and their health and their futures--were shattered by the very people who demanded that the survivors of this devastation vote to support a status quo of unconscionable inequality. A status quo that benefits the rich who tore this society apart, benefited from the misery, and then sent the profits to banks on Caribbean islands.

I was a child in the midst of this destruction. The memories I have are not of football or cartoons, but of coming home from school to see, every night, night after night, for a year, grainy television film tinted orange from the streetlights illuminating that day's pre-dawn picket lines in a mine workers' town. The film showing black-uniformed police beating unarmed men--men like my grandfather, like my father--into the ground just for trying to defend their jobs, their families and their communities.

Night after night after night, my grandfather and my father watching silently, the light from the television screen on their faces. They didn't have to say a word for me to know whose side I was on. They didn't even need to explain that there were sides to be taken.

And now that the bankers, corporation bosses, the Financial Times, presidents and kings and a Tory prime minister are demanding a vote to protect their status quo, they shouldn't be surprised when our class turns their condescension and contempt for us back on them.

Note that I have hardly mentioned migration...because that´s not the point. To be completely clear: workers have no country. There should be no borders.

The migration of people across continents, oceans and frontiers cannot be stopped, no matter what racists like Farage and Johnson claim. Humans have always migrated and always will, no matter how many of us the militaries and police and governments of nation states try to kill by forcing us to cross deserts and seas, endure coyotes, airless trucks and overladen boats.

It is absurd to claim that the EU is a progressive force for the rights of migrants. Relatively few, mostly white, mostly Christian people currently can take advantage of the right of free movement, but many of the poorest workers in each Union member state simply can't afford to, even though they have the right on paper.

With the British vote to leave, maybe those people who can afford to take advantage of this right will have to get a visa--after 2019, when the UK legally leaves the Union--but it has to be remembered that it is Fortress Europe that forces literally millions more migrants (who are not so white, and maybe not Christian) to endure far worse than a queue to get a visa.

Fortress Europe forces these migrants to risk their lives at sea and deports those who survive. The promise of free movement does not apply to those who most need it: the poorest, those fleeing war and persecution.

The fight for migrants' rights didn't begin with the June 23 vote--it has been fought bitterly, tenaciously and courageously for decades. Unions have organized documented and undocumented workers; rights organizations have supported, advocated for and defended migrants against judges and politicians; and communities have fought back against racists, fascists and Nazis on the streets--all during the time that Britain has been in the Union.

In this respect, nothing will change with the vote to leave. It is up to us, as it has always been up to us, to fight for more progressive laws and attitudes towards migrants. No more relying on the fanciful chance that the right-wing governments in the EU would make laws a little more favorable to refugees and migrants.

A vote to stay would have been taken by the financial, political and media elites as a vindication of their contempt for us--for workers, for migrants. The attacks on our class, the attempts to divide us with deepening inequality and ever-more vicious restrictions on migrants and refugees, would have intensified under a strengthened Tory government firmly in power until 2020.

The vote to leave should be taken as a vote against acquiescing to this, and now we have the chance to act. We are not passive. We have unions, a Labour Party, community organizations--and now we have the opportunity to use our imagination to take advantage of a divided, scattered and shattered elite and fight for tolerance.
Paul Salgado, from the Internet

A vote that emboldens the right

SEVERAL DAYS after the UK voted in favor of Brexit, debates about the outcome, what led to it, and what the fallout from this decision will be continue to divide us. Of course, there is a significant popular divide, a ruling-class divide, and importantly, for socialists, there is a divide on a proper left response to the issue.

Left exit ("Lexit") supporters correctly argue that the European Union is a neoliberal institution, that it is undemocratic, and that its policies have in many ways led to the creation of a base of support for the right wing due to the way in which EU policies alienate working people while pitting communities against each other.

However, acknowledging the existence of a problem, however publicly, does not provide us with a ready-made strategy to fight it, nor does it give us information on a reactionary opposition's ability to fight back and divide our forces.

Having the correct analysis of existing problems is important, but so is the practical implementation of a response to those problems. In short, as Karl Marx once suggested, the philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.

In my opinion, the Lexit side has shown an almost complete inability to transcend those philosophical questions about the nature of the EU by also attending to the practical questions of how to formulate a response given the actually existing balance of forces at play.

In contrast, as many Left Remain supporters have correctly predicted, the Brexit vote has emboldened the far right in the UK (and elsewhere) while providing a rallying point for those who wish to engage in racist and xenophobic attacks on migrants and racialized people. It put a smile on the faces of fascists everywhere while rendering already vulnerable groups more vulnerable as a result.

This cannot be ignored. Not only does this directly hurt the members of those vulnerable groups, but the division and marginalization effect this has on the population more generally makes the organization of an effective socialist fightback more difficult.

It is precisely at times of ruling-class division such as this when revolutionary opportunities are most likely to occur, but capitalizing on those opportunities is only possible when those divides at the top are accompanied by a growth in solidarity from below. The unfortunate result of the Brexit vote has stunted that growth by enabling racism.

Many Lexit supporters and organizations, as well as many left Remain supporters and organizations, consider themselves proud to be part of the same political tradition as Lenin and the Bolsheviks.

As one of them, I feel that perhaps a good suggestion to offer, to supplement our understanding of the situation at hand, would be to go back and read what Lenin had to say on the subject.

He had nothing to say about a Brexit vote, but plenty to say on the subject of political strategy, including the key question of how to strategize in situations where we're facing the threat of violent reaction capable of demobilizing and crushing socialist resistance.

He understood, correctly, that abstract analysis alone won't cut it. Without a clear understanding of the balance of forces at play, reckless responses become more likely, and that there are circumstances which compel us to compromise. He wrote:

It is folly, not revolutionism, to deprive ourselves in advance of any freedom of action, openly to inform an enemy who is at present better armed than we are whether we shall fight him, and when. To accept battle at a time when it is obviously advantageous to the enemy, but not to us, is criminal; political leaders of the revolutionary class are absolutely useless if they are incapable of "changing tack, or offering conciliation and compromise" in order to take evasive action in a patently disadvantageous battle.

The outcome of the battle that has just been entered is still uncertain, but already, the forces of extreme reaction have been strengthened with the result of the vote. The working class has deprived itself in advance.

Regardless of that result, a fightback against capitalism and its attack dogs, austerity and racism, was already difficult.

Now, though, without the utmost effort dedicated to organization, outreach, expanding our numbers and, perhaps most importantly, a renewed emphasis on practical battle strategy over abstract, sterile analysis, the consequences could be even more dire.

Because any refusal to change tack and compromise with the EU now in order to fight it later under more favorable conditions to us means the reactionary nationalists and racists of the far right get their way. They must be stopped, and soon, or we shall have to wait far longer for conditions favorable to our side.

The damage done in the meantime could be severe.
J. Gannon, from the Internet

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