The following is an article written by Ana Bazac, Professor at Polytechnic University of Bucharest, Romania, evaluating the meaning and different dimensions of Brexit. We are publishing this text in an effort to deepen the discussion on Brexit.
Though it was said justly that the divergence between different bourgeois parties concerning Brexit showed – letting aside the fight for power – the opposition between nationalist and trans-nationalist capitalisms and that to following these different branches of capitalism has any progressive outcome for the British and European and world majorities, things are more nuanced. And though many voters caste their ballots on the basis of xenophobia and illusions about the good national capitalism – thus supporting protectionist and isolationist ideologies – the whole of the voters for Leave started from a more complex view (for instance, “…the real issues: sovereignty, accountable government, financial independence, freedom from involvement in Washington’s wars and conflict with Russia”).
On the other hand, to simply consider that the victory of Brexit over the big bugs and those who think they nonetheless would profit from the trans-national capitalist relations and privileges granted by the EU would have been the result of the struggle between tolerance and openness towards seclusion and intolerance does not prove much realism. Actually, with all the influences they have suffered, rejected or accepted, people have considered many aspects – political and cultural, economic and social, on short and long term – when they have decided. Obviously, they have prioritized one aspect or another, somehow reducing all of them to those promoted by the closest party/message to the problems they faced and face, but they were not exterior to the aggregate arguments turning on all sides the proposed variants.
Though radical left organizations have explained that in front of the two fake alternatives – which do not change exploitation, the attacks against the post-war welfare state, the increasing militarism, speculation and deep economic and social crises – the concrete solution would be an active boycott against this fake political agenda imposing the referendum pro or against the EU (but not against its wars and capitalist character), the majority of people has thought that this solution was not quite correct. And not only because the majority of people was manipulated by different types of political right, including the false-left organisations; but because the population has considered that although the referendum was proposed by the upper class in order to gain a validation of the continuity of the capitalist politics (but especially within the EU), it might be reversed: as if the popular consultation would have been the occasion to show the rulers that the viewpoint of the many still matters.
In fact, just this belief and this phenomenon of the popular consultation were and are frightening the ruling layers. I don’t know if they supposed the victory of Remain following the huge confusion induced by the media and organisations. The probability they did is high if we do not forget the behaviour of “the markets” – the rising of the value of pound, and thus of stock exchanges – before the vote. But if until now the referendums were not sincerely appreciated by the promoters of the status quo (since there were the unpleasant referendums in Holland and France related to the Constitution of the EU), from now on they will be attacked through different machinations. (Certainly, apart from the situation they serve these promoters). In fact, the ruling layers will calculate more carefully in order to prevent any spontaneity of the masses, any unlooked-for event.
To those supporting the Leave they were promised the Apocalypse if they would dare to vote in a non-conformist manner (and still the spectre of Apocalypse is agitated, as the kind of divine ”invisible hand’s” punishment). For this reason, the victory of the Leave has the supplementary significances of the boldness and its power to overthrow the accounts of the simple continuity.
The fear from referendum – and from the possibility of leaving the EU – was not first of all generated by economic reasons, though the British elites knew that, at least on short term they could lose the credibility of the City and the British tax heavens, but because of political ones: that the daring of the referendum might be continued. Economically, the British elite do manage, irrespective of how much is losing the financial capital on short term. (But do not forget: the huge sums lost by the security markets are artificial, the result of the mad financialisation of economy from the last 30 years). Because: if the structural relations of capitalism do not change, every thing will be fine. Of course there is the (economic) crisis – or it will occur more than probable –, but this was much before the referendum, it did not disappear, irrespective of the reassuring messages of the financial institutions and media: the majority of the English voters felt this, and so the announce that Great Britain will enter recession after/because the Leave victory is false. As is the description of the loss by the British currency and shares after Brexit as “Great Britain lost”: no, not Great Britain, but the British capitals.
Otherwise, yes, the value of a currency – now the pound – could decrease, followed by the run of capitals to “invest”/buy other currencies: but this is a normal and permanent phenomenon within the capitalist financial competition and rush for profit. And when the pound has profited from the escape of capitals from other countries/currencies, it was good, was it? Methodologically speaking, designing an apocalyptic image of the post-Brexit England absolutely separated from the world system, namely from the other countries, as the model “not to be followed” – including by the countries which have suffered the subordination towards the Centre type countries like Great Britain – is simplistic, illusionary, and unethical. Actually, the increase/decrease of the value of currencies, and the cost of imports and exports are not abstract relations but related to the structural mechanism of capitalism: if the value of a currency decreases (let say, because of technical productive reasons), and thus the imports become more expensive, the prices paid by the final consumers do not reflect only this relation, but also the manner the economic benefits are distributed; for example, if the capital want to not lose anything/ to gain as much as it can on the back of the final consumers, as it happens nowadays, the prices increase (irrespective of the tempering of inflation)/ both the nominal and real wages are proportionally much lower than the gains of capitals. However, for God’s sake, if the value of currency decreases, it is good for exports, is it? So one loses, the other one gains: is this not the rule of the game?
What does EU mean, first of all? An economic alliance – where the allies have reduced or even abolished taxes on the circulation of capitals and goods – and thus becoming stronger and much able to enter the competition with the external economic forces. When the competing capitals/ countries are powerful, their gains permit a certain redistribution to the ruled; when the power of capitals/ countries decrease – as a result of the international competition, marked by the zero-sum rule, as we all know – or are from the beginning in a dominated position, the redistribution is very low, sometimes almost inexistent. The present world phase of neo-liberal capitalism is the result, inter alia, of the huge world competition and the rise of many new competing economic forces that are pressing the former great powers, as Great Britain and the core of the EU. The only solution for them is to continue their alliance, marked however by competition even inside it. This economic interest of the European capitals is the basis of the deep trouble of the European ruling strata, beyond the fearing related to the losses on short term.
As mentioned before, because of the inner capitalist purpose to maximize the profit, there is competition between the members of the EU too/of the core developed countries. For example, after Brexit some ones have concluded that the City – full of financial, banking and insurance institutions, as well as the headquarters of many of the world largest companies – will be replaced by other European locations. For the 300000 folks working there difficult times are near, but for the European guys catching the opportunity of working in the new business and financial centres it will be more than fine, will it? But what did the Londoners say when much more than 300000 jobs have disappeared in Great Britain in the last 30 years of neo-liberalism directed just from their city? So even though the messages about the guilt of Brexiteers add new and new “reasons” of the irrationality of their behaviour – in order to stop the possible contagion of others – in fact, there is only about the movement of capitals and their profits: where the jobs of the many are only “collateral damages”.
How could the EU assure economic growth and prosperity when it is a part of the world economy structured by competition? Does this huge competition not generate commercial and currency wars, as well as more privatisation (already of public services too) and de-localisations of industries and firms? Did all these phenomena not mean more aggressiveness, including towards the own peoples, and much before and without Brexit? Does this aggressiveness not mean new and new reductions of public expenses, planned before the referendum and having any connection with it?
The fact that external countries as China are not welcoming the victory of Leave is generated by political reasons and also by economic ones: not only because the exports of China in the EU in crisis will decrease, but also for the present dependence of the Chinese capital of the European currencies (it bought pounds etc. and the decrease of their value is a loss). Actually, the whole world capital is so intertwined that it prefers to not move anything that would jeopardise its gains. And if moves still occur, not only that every country/ group of capitals manages so as to lose as little – and this is possible only on the back of its own people, as well as on the back of other peoples –, but also that it uses the occasion to impose its supremacy in a so troubled world, as the present USA does.
But neither the attitude of these external countries nor the horror stories told by the supporters of Remain do change the fact that people would have suffered even if this Remain would have been the winner; and will suffer because of the logic of capitalist relations, not because of Brexit as such. Since Brexit will contribute to the resettlement and moving of capitals – keeping the pattern of concentration and centralisation of capitals – the crisis generated by this process will be a pretext to a more drastic reduction of rights and living standards.
The capitalist governments and the EU have generated contradictory policies: some ones defend – or only seem to defend – the interests of the many, but other ones clearly infringe them. The militarist policies, the draining of public funds toward wars and aggressions, as well as the regulations related to the GMOs, chemical pesticides, the drastic reduction of public financing of culture, health care and education show that the balance tilts the side of the corporations, and not of the population. And this happened within the EU – as well as in the whole world regulated by neo-liberalism –. In front of this situation, the majority of the British people thought to withdraw from the EU, because the most vocal arguments allowed by the establishment and its different kinds supporters were those which have equated the evil only with the EU and not with the capitalist relations as such. Consequently, people have rejected the above harmful and unjust measures by voting the exit from the EU.
But could some one say that after Brexit the above harmful and unjust measures will not continue? They will, of course, and not because of a crisis induced by Brexit, but because these measures sanction the already existing predominance of the private interests over the public ones. (See only the friendly attitude towards fracking and shale gas – which contaminate the water etc. –, or the financing of the GMOs companies etc. – and since the fat cats eat only ecological food, who cares about the many who become ill? Rather they will buy more treatments and medicines, and this is all right for business, is it?).
Consequently, and though the Leave has signalled the exasperation of the British and their will to put to an end the injustice and harmful governance, they must know that the process is not so simple and their will must continue: if they want not to face the real Apocalypse the world capital prepares for them.
In fact, the vote for Leave was not the rejection of the idea of (European) integration, but of its capitalist, harmful instrumentality; not integration was felt as bad, but its capitalist character. At the same time, nor these kinds of capitalist integration can last, since they are parts within the international competition; consequently, EU as this integration should be rejected, in order to construct another one.
The alignment of Corbyn, as the left of Labour, by the side of Remain, as that of some unions – and as that of Confédération européenne des Syndicats (emanated from the EU and validating all the EU measures reducing the power of labour force in front of the capital) – shows not only their real class character, but also their involuntary or voluntary negative role concerning the social consciousness of the British and European working people: the argument of both Corbyn and the unions was that they would transform EU from inside, seeming to forget the results until now of this formidable tactics. Unfortunately, this ideology was and is gainsaid by the strong neo-liberal character of all the present (European and national) institutions and policies; reality is that which shows the solution: that to be against them, not within them. Promoting the above illusion meant only to support the legitimacy of the present EU – just opposite to the feelings of the majority of population –.
Or, if the left does not take over the viewpoints of the broad masses, it is the extreme-right that will do, and in a perverted and harmful form. This is the danger now, if the left forces do not act in a consistent and active manner.
Brexit was and is an opportunity to solve some old international painful problems: not “the redesign of frontiers” – the governments are afraid of – but the correction of former un-natural dominations (see the request of Spain to be co-sovereign with Great Britain on the rock of Gibraltar).
The guilt of real and false left-wing organisations which have not promoted the Leave is huge. They did not understand the significance of the Leave and thus: 1) they let the extreme-right to appropriate this significance and to imbue it with xenophobia and simplistic reasoning; and 2) they gave to the Remain campaign the “arguments”.
Indeed, Leave was equated by both the fake left and the explicit (Tory) liberals with racism (intolerance towards immigrants etc.), while the Remains being the ultra-modern liberals proving correctness and openness. In fact, not only that racist nuances were implied in the Remain campaign, but the above equalisation is a simplistic and incorrect reasoning (as that of the liberal political correctness – took over by the fake left too – where to oppose adoption of children by same sex couples would mean homophobia. It certainly is not, but only the consideration of the rights of children, and not only of couples).
Just because the whole referendum was led from right-wing standpoints, the behaviour of post-Brexit losers is full of narrow nationalist views, in the same line with and at the same time inverse to those accused before by them: since the exit would lead to negative consequences for the well-to-do parts of the “middle-class”, these parts have begun campaign for new referendums – one that would repeat the first for reverse its result, and/ or another one for the secession of London as a voter for Remain; while Scotland is in line with those considering the veto of the Parliament against the Brexit, or it proposes a new referendum for its independence. The “non-negotiable” unity and integrity of Britain is questioned in the name of “the nation” of London or Scotland, while all these attempts emphasise an incredible decline of the value of democracy: its rule of majority doesn't matter, let dissolve the people when it is not subordinated to the great guns (to remember and paraphrase Bertolt Brecht).
Nevertheless, we ought not to forget that the referendum has showed that almost half of the population of Britain voted Remain: because both the illusion that within the EU it will be prosperous/more prosperous than outside (and it hoped for privileges of Britain within EU, relating to immigrants etc.) and the fear of the unknown were stronger than the desire to shake an order that produced so many bad things, felt by it too. The class analysis of the voters is important, of course, but it’s equally important to understand their feelings and reasoning: namely, to these feelings and reasoning must the left forces address in order change them.
The Remain camp was not that depicted by the liberal image: open and tolerant, somehow “internationalist”; as we saw, it was motivated by perverse egotism, and rejected internationalism in the name of the European trans-nationalism of corporations and bureaucracy. But if so, the left forces must show both the consequences of the Remain and the necessity of Leave to continue the shaking it began.
Well, it was Brexit – or it could have been Remain – but the involvement of Great Britain and of EU in the world warfare, as well as the NATO, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (
It would be tragic the left forces lose time and, in the wake of historical/former divisions, not unite their voice. Let start from the assumption that both the active boycott and the Leave were determined by serious reasons and were, let say, necessary. But from now on, it would be almost irreversibly tragic the left forces not be able to channel the popular opposition – and its possible fall into isolationism, protectionism and the illusion of the good national capital – into the rejection of capitalism as such; it would be almost irreversibly tragic the left forces not be able to explain that the integration within the EU is not the lesser evil towards protectionism: not only because protectionist preventions already exist within UE, thus not only because of the deep contradictions within EU, and not only because the deep contradictions and protectionist measures still exist between EU and the rest of the world, but because today there is no longer any lesser evil. With or without EU, the structural contradictions of capitalism are so huge that their upshot is only the war.
If the left forces do not mobilise themselves, do not unite their voice, they will contribute, as before the Second Word War, to the destruction and suffering of the peoples, to their pushing into a deeper confusion, despair and paralysis.
It depends on the left forces the orientation the masses after Brexit will choose.
- And the simple withdrawals – as that from NATO are not enough: militarism as such must be attacked. Why to not propose referendums related to NATO and governments’ military expenditures, which reflect the long term planning of the military-industrial complex?
- The anti austerity demonstrations – supported by different false left and extreme-right organisations – no longer have any power. Why to not propose referendums related to governments’ economic policies?
- The reciprocal ignoring or criticism of different left organisations is more harmful from now on. Why to not propose larger or narrower referendums related to the political alternatives: of the left organisations, as well as of the right-wing organisations?
- The capitalist representative democracy rejects the imperative mandate of the representatives. These ones may impose everything in the name of “national/superior (European/world)” interests. Why to not propose referendums related to this mechanism?
The British people dared to really chose. The united left forces are now – and only they are – the fighters for the democracy of the real choice. It’s up to them!
27 June 2016
“According to the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), real per capita spending on public services will be cut by 23 percent between 2007/8 and 2018/19… The Institute for Fiscal Studies warned that “colossal” cuts to the state would take total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the Second World War”, http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2016/06/13/spee-j13.html.