Chart a New Path
The people of England, Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland voted on June 23 to leave the European Union rather than remain in the EU. The voting was Leave: 17,410,742 (51.9% of valid votes cast); Remain: 16,141,241(48.1% of valid votes cast), a majority of 1,269,501, with a turnout of 72.2% of the total electorate of 46,500,001. The number of rejected ballots was 25,359.i
The result was a blow to the existing arrangements, and to those forces who had been siding with the status quo. It is primarily a victory for the working class, who gave voice to their opposition to the anti-social offensive, to the imposition of monopoly right represented by the EU and to being denied a say in the direction of society.
The establishment, through the leadership of both the Remain and Leave campaigns, had attempted to disinform working people and to make sure they could not find their bearings. A chauvinist, racist and xenophobic context was created in which the opposition to the neo-liberal, pro-austerity institutions of the EU was not supposed to be on the agenda.
The vote to leave the EU has created a profound political crisis for the ruling elite. If anything, the campaign to disorientate and disinform the people has been intensified. The most backward sections of society have been highlighted as though they represent the majority. The financiers, speculators and credit rating institutions, who should be deprived of any say in the economy, have themselves plunged the economy further into crisis. Attempts continue to prevent the government being held to account and the will of the electorate implemented.
What the referendum result has highlighted is the aspiration of the people to exercise sovereignty, to have a decisive say in the direction of society, a decisive say in setting its aim. This aspiration is based on the bitter experience of working people that the austerity agenda has targeted them and benefited the rich. It has demonstrated the opposition of the people overall to the supra-national institutions of the European Union which cannot be held to account by the people and which declare nation-building to be at an end. It has demonstrated the rejection of Euro-federalism in which nations are supposed to deny their own identity and not determine their own future, but be subservient to the representatives of the neo-liberal agenda of the EU as an institution.
The referendum was set in motion by David Cameron to attempt to sort out the contradictions in the ruling elite once and for all. Quite how impossible this was has now come home to roost, and far from settling the issue it is he who has had to tender his resignation. Despite some attempts to say that it should be business as usual, the political situation has changed.
The vote to leave the EU opens up the space for discussion on the new kind of politics which society needs, for the discussion on how to take things forward and turn around the economy to favour working people, how to combat the chauvinism and retrogression which is the only answer of the ruling elite to the crisis of a neo-liberal economy and to the crisis of working class representation. In promoting racism and racist attacks, the state itself attempts to separate national minority communities from the working class of which they are part, and incites and promotes racist activities. The British state’s policy towards citizenship and immigration has always been racist. The “free movement of labour” which the neo-liberal “free market” encourages, particularly from Eastern Europe, aims to keep these workers as vulnerable as possible, while driving down living standards and working conditions for all workers. The working class opposes these schemes while demanding that the rights of all workers be recognised in opposition to the demand of the multinational concerns that everything and everyone should be subservient to the interests of the EU and other monopolies, and that only along this path can working people find salvation.
A concerted attempt is being made to turn the Brexit vote for control of a sovereign economy into a racist backlash for which the ruling elite has for long been preparing the ground. Rather the working class and all its allies must take the Brexit vote forward on the basis of fighting for democratic renewal and empowerment. This attempt at promoting racism is going hand in hand with a coup aimed at blocking the movement to end austerity and instead to reinstate the politics of neo-liberalism and contempt for sovereignty. In both cases, what is evident is the attempt of the ruling elite to block the movement of the people for empowerment, demonstrating the crucial need for the working class and people to discuss the necessity for new arrangements and for a political movement effective in bringing these about.
In other words, taken together these attempts show how the agenda of austerity, racism and war must itself be blocked, and for the working class and people to unite around charting a new path for society. It is not a question of siding with any other force. It is essential that an independent path is taken by the working class and people.
United around the necessity for democratic renewal and empowerment, the working class and people can block the neo-liberal coup of vested interests against the electorate, not get swayed by the hysteria that is being fostered, and discuss the practical steps required to take things forward.