This article was published in Turkish immediately after the Brexit referendum on 24 June 2016 (the referendum itself was held on the 23rd) on the web site of DIP, www.gercekgazetesi.net. It was then translated into English by a comrade, but as the editing was being completed on the night of 15 July, Turkey was rocked by the failed coup attempt! This explains the exceptional delay with which this article is being published. We think it is still worthwhile publishing this piece, since we believe Brexit is (as Savran explicitly suggests in this article) a landmark event in the contemporary history of Europe or rather of the world at large. Some sentences may sound dated, but for purposes of loyalty to the original text, we haven’t made any changes.
So Brexit is here. Fifty-two per cent of the British people voted to leave the EU. This is an historic outcome. Britain, that is to say the world’s fifth and Europe’s second biggest economy, a country where Europe’s foremost financial centre, the City of London, second only to Wall Street in global rankings, is located, one of the three nuclear powers of NATO and the world’s most powerful imperialist country until the mid-20th century, is leaving the EU!
1989 inside out
From an historical point of view, this referendum is the inversion of the maelstrom created by the collapse of the bureaucratically degenerated workers’ states of Eastern Europe in 1989. One of the main reasons of that collapse and the beginning of capitalist restoration was the rise of the European Union on the horizon as a colossus of wealth and power. Unification of the up to then divided European capitalism had attracted the peoples of Eastern Europe just like a magnet attracting little metal pieces. Not just the six countries subordinated to the Soviet Union (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Eastern Germany, Romania, and Bulgaria), but also the Baltic countries that separated from the Soviet Union earlier than the rest (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) and the peoples of Yugoslavia also came under the spell of the EU. Yugoslavia, founded in the wake of the First World War, was dragged into a bloody civil war with the peoples of its constituent republics (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo), slaughtering each other, attracted as they were to the EU at different paces. Albania followed suit. In fact, all those countries, including Serbia, the most reluctant among them at the time, later submitted applications for accession to the colossus and a considerable number of them are members of the EU today (Slovakia and the Czech Republic as two different countries). Others are waiting at the gates.
While they (and Turkey!) are waiting at the gates, now that colossus itself is breaking into pieces. In 1989 all the mouthpieces of the bourgeoisie were toying with a new concept: “The end of history!” In an article written in the summer of 1989, a hitherto inconspicuous American “thinker”, Francis Fukuyama, declared the end of history. This “end of history” was an idea overtly asserted against Marx’s fundamental notion that capitalism was bound to result in communism. The bourgeoisie was entering the new millennium with cries of victory and celebrations of their ideological victory. Capitalism was continuing to march triumphantly. Globalisation was overcoming every obstacle on its way like a steam-roller and was seizing the world.
The “end of history” itself came to an end in 2008. The financial crisis that broke out that year was the harbinger of a new great depression, the Third Great Depression as we called it from the very first day. What we witness today is the first major earthquake of the Third Great Depression. Last year’s order of the day was Grexit. In other words, the exit of Greece, the greatest victim of the Third Great Depression in the EU, from the Eurozone or even from the EU was at stake. Syriza, led by Alexis Tsipras, a traitor within the ranks of workers and toilers, saved EU imperialism from that earthquake. Yet the EU was to have a respite of just one year. And now, the long and necessarily protracted collapse of the EU, presumed to become the bright light of the 21st century, has begun. The immediate financial panic triggered by Brexit might come to an end. Yet the economic decline of the EU will continue. Brexit will lead to yet more disasters for the EU.
This is an historic event. It is not only the end of the end of history. That was back in 2008, with the financial collapse, as we then put it clearly. This is the burial of “the end of history”.
The Hobsbawm irony: Scotland is next
It was a close referendum: 52 per cent for the “leave” camp against the 48 per cent of the “remain” camp. But Britain is not just England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also constitutive parts of Britain (or of the United Kingdom to put it more strictly). Two of those four peoples voted unequivocally to remain in the EU. 56 per cent of the people of Northern Ireland, separated in the past from their compatriots in the south as a result of the historical ruse of English imperialism, voted to remain in the EU. The choice of the Scottish people for the EU was even clearer. 62 per cent voted to remain. What determined the victory of “leave” was the predominance of the English people in the country’s demographics.
It is clear why the Scottish and the Irish voted to remain in the EU. Considerable sections of the population in both countries do not want to live with the English within Britain. As long as the country stayed in the EU, living with the English could be more tolerable. But once the rest of Europe goes away, why would the Scots and the Catholics of Northern Ireland want to live with the English? It will be remembered that, about two years ago, in September 2014 the Scottish people voted in a referendum whether to leave Britain or remain within. The polls went neck and neck for quite a while but the “remain” camp won with 55 per cent against the 45 per cent of the “leave” camp. In all likelihood, the underlying reason for this five point slide at the last minute was the blackmail of the EU against the Scottish people. The main bodies of the EU claimed that if the Scottish people were to vote to leave Britain, they would be stripped of the opportunities provided by the EU. Thus, a certain portion of the Scottish people did not really vote to live with the English, but to remain in the EU. Yet, now Scotland hes ended up leaving the EU! Therefore, Scottish nationalists will in all probability rapidly call a new referendum. 2016 has become Britain’s year of separation from the EU. 2017 will probably be Scotland’s year of separation from Britain.
The late Eric Hobsbawm, probably the most prolific Marxist historian of the 20th century, spoke rather condescendingly when the Scottish people first started to move to gain their independence from Britain in the 1970s. Back then the IRA was waging an independence war in Northern Ireland, the Welsh and the Scottish were experiencing a national awakening and books with titles such as “The Break-up of Britain” (Tom Nairn) were being published. Hobsbawm was telling the Scottish people that if they were to choose to leave Britain, Shetlands may choose to leave Scotland. What he was suggesting that once started, it would be impossible to know where this separation wave would stop. Hobsbawm called this “the Shetlands effect”. Of course, he may not have been completely wrong. But as a member of the English nation, the greatest imperialist nation that history had ever seen up until then, when talking about a nation that was forced by his own “great” nation, through conquest, into political unity some three hundred years ago, such condescension is totally out of place for a Marxist. That kind of attitude gives a person the dubitable honour of mouthpiece of the oppressor English nationalism. The irony of history has worked against Hobsbawm: Now, the very same “Shetland effect” hits England, not Scotland! If Britain leaves the EU, then Scotland will leave Britain! The old man was a Stalinist; for that reason, his history of the 20th century was his worst book. Yet he was a great historian of the 18th and 19th centuries. Only if he could live to see all this! After all, he does owe an apology to the Scottish people!
The Stoke-on-Trent effect
Well, then, let us coin a new term the “Stoke-on-Trent effect” in order to send our greetings to the doyen of Marxist historians. But before Stoke, let us take up Brighton and London. I happen to have conducted a year-long research at Sussex University in the late seventies and have gone back from time to time. Brighton, where the university is located, is a city for the retired and the tourist. Rich, tranquil and untroubled. Brighton voted with the highest majority in Britain to stay in the EU, with 63 per cent. The residents of London, the favourite place of the oil or sharia-compliant finance-enriched Arabic sheikhs, as well as money launderers and speculators from all over the world to buy real estate and where the City, Europe’s top financial centre as well as countless multinationals are situated, voted 60 per cent to remain. On the other hand, Stoke-on-Trent on the poor northern edge of England voted with the highest majority to leave the EU: 70 per cent!
Why? Because this city, famous for its ceramics including the well-known brand of Wedgewood, also used to be a prominent mining and industrial (iron and steel) town. But during the long crisis of world capitalism that started in the seventies, industry gradually collapsed. Mining was destroyed by Margaret Thatcher, riding high on her victory over the miners’ strike in the eighties. Today, the region is ravaged by unemployment.
It is not enough to state that 52 per cent of the British population voted to leave. Stoke-on-Trent is a significant indicator for blue-collar workers. The working class voted to close the frontiers because Britain tormented them with the cruel “free market”, international capitalist competition and unemployment, on the basis of policies conducted first by Thatcher, then by the leader of the Labour Party, Tony Blair, agent of “Thatcherism without Thatcher” and finally by David Cameron during the last six years. The Brexit referendum is completely a class phenomenon. TheBlue-collar working class, abandoned to its fate (that is to say to the mercy of the capitalist market) has taken its revenge from the political leaders of the bourgeoisie. This is what we call the “Stoke-on-Trent effect”.
There are two political victors of the Brexit referendum. On the on hand, the racist party of Britain, the UKIP and its leader Nigel Farage, and on the other, the pro-leave wing of the Tory party, and especially the ex-mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Both of them deliberately provoked racism by claiming that unemployment, low wages and all the other afflictions were caused by immigrant workers (ant Turkey supposedly joining the EU imminently), whereas all of these, in actual fact, are results of capitalist policies. Thus, they tried to win the vote of the working class and the poor and did it successfully. The English working class wanted to close the frontiers in order to keep out the Syrian immigrants and the immigrant workers coming in waves from the rest of the EU and especially from poor Eastern Europe. Racists should rejoice!
Prime Minister David Cameron lost the gamble he played. This was the gamble: in May 2014, the UKIP ranked as the first party of Britain in the European Parliament elections. Because of that, Cameron, by promising a Brexit referendum, tried to stop the rise of the UKIP. Meanwhile, he negotiated for the conditions of Britain inside the EU. Thus, he tried to illustrate himself as the champion of the rights of the English people. The people did not buy that! British politics will grow tougher. The fact that a female Labour MP, Jo Cox, was murdered brutally by a Nazi sympathiser is an extraordinary example of violence in a country with such parliamentary traditions! The murderer shouted “Britain First” while committing the murder. This should be heard as the English version of the “Deutschland über Alles” of Hitler.
We should also point out that if the Scottish people call a referendum, the government probably would not let this happen, since it is nearly certain that the “leave” side would win this time. This would lead to ever greater tension, and moves that flirt with the illegal domain of politics, just like in the example of Spain versus Catalonia.
One might wonder what the left did confronted with this situation. Just like in Turkey, in Europe too there is a highly common type of leftist who thinks that being pro-EU means being an internationalist! Even when they know that it is not, they pretend to believe that, since it is in their best interest. The attitude of the leaders of the Labour Party was of this kind too. Financial tycoons of the City of London, banks, British multinationals and the CBI, the largest employers’ organisation, all were for remaining in the EU. And these people too, so-called leftists, advocated staying in the EU, in the name of “internationalism”! They left the workers with no choice but to turn to the UKIP! We should also note that every serious revolutionary Marxist party in Britain opted to leave.
Jeremy Corbyn, who won the elections for the leadership of the Labour Party last year as a sign of the ebullition in the ranks of the British working class and youth, failed the test of the referendum. Although he kept a low profile during the whole campaign period, during the last few days he appeared on TV and advocated remaining in the EU. A journalist commented that he had the voice of a “hostage reading the ransom note put out by his capturers”. Why? Because in the past he had stood against the EU all throughout his life! Now, under the pressure of his party, he had to make the same choice as the English bourgeoisie!
Answer the UKIP in the idiom of the French!
Because of all these reasons, Brexit has become a new trump card for all the racist and proto-fascist parties of Europe. Not just in Britain, but in the other countries that would follow its lead as well.
The only remedy to this is to step up the class struggle. The response to what happened in Britain can be found on the other side of the English Channel, in France, with the on-going struggle against the draft Labour Code, started more than three months ago. The left must denounce seeing the EU as the solution and break up with the policy of abandoning the working and toiling masses to the reactionaries.
In Turkey, too, Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said: “We can consult the people just like in England”. It is not just about Europe: de te fabula narratur!