The narrow June 23 vote (51.9% to 48.1%) in favor of Britain’s leaving the European Union, “Brexit,” sent the pound tumbling to historic lows against the dollar, and roiled stock markets around the world. Most had expected a narrow victory for the Remain option. The worldwide repercussions of this reactionary vote will not be confined to the financial markets. The specter of a slow crumbling of the EU itself, an economic union founded with the idea of preventing further European wars, has at least been raised. The Far Right has been emboldened worldwide.
Future wars and genocides are gestating in this rise of the Far Right. Their “success” stems from a continuing undermining of human solidarity, from the inadequate response to the Bosnian genocide to today’s great and regional powers leaving Syrian President Bashar al-Assad free to exterminate the Syrian people.
Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron immediately announced his resignation. He had thought that, by promising a referendum on the EU, he could successfully co-opt the vote of the racist UK Independence Party (UKIP), advocates of leaving the EU. While this “worked” in the last elections, increasing the Conservative vote, it opened the door to mainstreaming the UKIP’s racism and hatred of immigrants. Donald Trump, who plays on similar bigotry in the U.S., crowed that the result foreshadowed his coming victory in the presidential election.
The campaign to leave the EU led to the most extreme advance of reactionary politics in decades. Cheered on by capital’s werewolves Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and the parties of Europe’s neo-fascist Right, the “Leave” campaign lied blatantly about alleged benefits of rejecting EU membership, such as the promise to give to the National Health Service 350 million pounds a week that currently go to EU contributions. After the election, UKIP leader Nigel Farage said it won’t happen. The campaign lied even more outrageously about a supposed imminent invasion of Syrians, Turks and Iraqis. Hatred of Muslims was undisguised. Muslims, Africans, and Poles have been facing growing verbal assaults.
The murder by a neo-Nazi of Labour Party MP Jo Cox, a supporter of immigrants and Syrian freedom, expressed the essence of the “Leave” campaign. After Cox was shot and stabbed to death, Farage had the nerve to say, “We won without a shot being fired.” The negation of her existence is classic fascist provocation.
As in France, many working-class people cast their vote for the Right. Syria solidarity activist Sam Charles Hamad described it thus: “In the northeast of England, the politics of racist hysteria, hatred and fear have won in white working-class areas. It’s the result of decades of racism being fostered among these communities. You have, simultaneously, the Tory government cutting public services, while the people are being told that immigrants are putting a strain on these services. It’s the cuts, not the immigrants. There aren’t enough council houses because Labour and Tory governments have consistently failed to build them–the English National Health Service has been weakened by Labour/Conservative stealth privatization, not by immigrants.”
Many didn’t buy into this filth, of course. Young people 18 to 29 overwhelmingly voted for EU membership, not least because they will lose many current rights to travel, work in other EU countries, and so on. Residents of diverse cities like London and Liverpool also voted Remain, as did people in Scotland and most of Northern Ireland, including industrial workers, and where new independence initiatives were immediately discussed–in its last independence referendum, Scots had voted to remain with the UK largely in order to remain a part of the EU.
CAPITALISM’S INHUMAN TENDENCY
While the rhetoric of this neo-fascist Right refers to some very real effects of the intractable capitalist crisis that has created wave after wave of misery since the mid-1970s, it deflects to scapegoating—blaming immigrants and minorities for the decline in living standards that actually result from the objective laws of capitalism. Both Conservative and Labour governments have bowed to those laws. The Far Right may attack “the bankers” as conspirators, in timeworn anti-Semitic mode, but this also serves the interests of capitalist social relations of domination and exploitation, which become exacerbated as the crisis continues to deepen.
The EU has been a vehicle of enforcing capitalist austerity, as in its unconscionable humiliation of Greece. But Cameron, Obama, Hollande and Merkel aren’t the vanguard of counter-revolution today. The UK referendum results have energized the parties of the extreme Right, which have already made electoral strides by feeding on the fear and hatred of immigrants. So many of the people on the move in the world are desperate refugees from the Right’s patron Putin and his genocidal ally Assad, as well as from ISIS, which festered in Assad’s counter-revolution and the aftermath of Bush’s Iraq War. The European establishment acquiesced to both.
The “respectable” rulers simply have no solid ground to oppose this rising fascism. As embodiments of capital, and thus administrators of austerity, they are deeply threatened by the worldwide revolts which began in 2010 in the Middle East and within the U.S. prison system. Their ambivalence about the Syrian people’s struggle against genocide takes their measure.
Worse, much of the Left in the UK showed itself lacking serious revolutionary ground. Organizations such as the Socialist Party, Counterfire and the Communist Party advocated a “Leave” vote as ” our chance of a lifetime,” in the words of the Socialist Workers Party, acknowledging in the same breath that “The official Vote Leave campaign is headed by racists.” Laboring under the delusion that they could turn this victory by the Right into a triumph of the Left by choosing the capitalist parliamentary UK nation-state over the capitalist EU bureaucracy, they tailed after the “Leave” campaign of wealthy Conservatives, Far Right UKIP, and incubators of violent terror like Britain First. They accomplished nothing except to give a “Left” cover to the advancing Far Right. Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn nominally supported Remain, but put little effort into campaigning or telling the workers what they needed to hear–and so, as in France with the National Front, many workers did vote with the Far Right.
As this is a non-binding referendum, Corbyn’s “progressive” politics could have been expressed as straight talk to the workers: If this racist vote prevails, in no way will Labour participate in or allow its implementation. This would most likely have gained the Labour Party more respect and support than it would have cost them. It could have made a difference.
WHAT GROUND IS NEEDED?
Marx’s absolute general law of capitalist accumulation comes to life as never before. As crisis deepens, capitalism returns to its most brutal and inhuman relations–as Germany did in the 1930s. In Assad’s Syria, Erdogan’s Turkey or Sisi’s Egypt we see this today. Russia’s Putin not only funds fascist and Far Right organizations in many European countries but co-opts Russian neo-fascists like Alexander Dugin and Vladimir Zhirinovsky by way of foreign military adventures in Ukraine and Syria. In their efforts to crush revolutionary struggles for a better future, they portend the dismal future inhuman capitalism drives us toward.
The immediate capitulation by both Conservatives and Labour, like the Republican Party’s acquiescence to Trump’s candidacy and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France, shows the capitulation to the Far Right by establishment politicians and a large segment of the ruling class. The rulers have always been willing to sacrifice some of their own rights and dignity if it meant keeping the oppressed from challenging the fundamental logic of capital.
What can open the way to human solidarity and what Marx called revolution in permanence begins by seeing that capital is not an immutable law, but a human relation, subject to negation through the struggle for freedom.
Raya Dunayevskaya made this point philosophically in a 1968 letter on the racist British MP Enoch Powell, who today’s advocates of “Brexit” from Nigel Farage to Peter Hitchens openly cite as inspiration. As against those who kept to a narrowly economistic opposition to Powell’s racism, which was finding a working-class audience, Dunayevskaya pointed to the new revolutionary paths made possible by the African Revolutions: “Marx showed the relationship between Labour’s struggle for freedom and the fact that slavery was still in existence in Africa, in Asia, and the oppressed minorities within the developed country…Instead of looking down upon the ‘immigrants,’ the British, the American, and the East European ought to hail the birth of the new Third World, especially the African Revolutions.
“We should hail them for once again showing us the power of the ideas of freedom, and that the will to freedom, even when unarmed and facing the mightiest empires, can win.”
Capital’s “absolute” laws are the main determinants so long as the masses are not allowed their self-activity; they only have force as long as humanity’s struggle to be free is not yet complete. At the same time, those very laws generate their opposite, the new passions and new forces for the reconstruction of society on totally human foundations. The only solid ground for opposing this latest stage of reactionary retrogression is that of revolution in permanence.
–Gerry Emmett, for the National Editorial Board of News and Letters Committees
June 26, 2016