If the gloves were off among the economic and political elites before the counting of the referendum votes – and they were – then there is no sign that the combatants are ready to step out of the ring. The two sides in the Brexit debate, in the run up to the vote, consistently misrepresented the other side, fabricated information for their own side, ignored the real issues and thoroughly discredited themselves further in the process. Even before the debate, very few people believed more than a fraction of what any politician asserted was the truth about anything let alone what was in their own particular interests. This whole episode has merely confirmed the polite view that politicians are extremely economical with the truth and has given further credence to the cynical answer to the rhetorical question; ‘How do you know when a politician is lying; Answer; when they open their mouths.’ Bourgeois politics has no real credibility with increasing numbers of ordinary people – and not just in the UK.
On the political surface of European and British politics at the moment, everything is in turmoil, yet below this surface nothing has really changed. The Conservative Party is split between ‘inners’ and ‘outer’s’, its leader Prime Minister Cameron has resigned and internal chaos, close to war is the order of the day. Many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party, also split between, ‘inners’ and ‘outer’s’ have openly replaced their pugilistic debating gloves with knives poised to plunge into each others backs. The ripples are already spreading across Europe as the implications, repercussions and recriminations turn into a tidal wave of financial speculation and political manoeuvring. This effects is also being felt in Scotland and Northern Ireland within the UK. The financial markets, already in another condition of undeclared leverage crisis, will now be as volatile as they were before the 2008 financial crisis. Everything seems to be changing and it is, but only on the surface.
For at the economic and social level nothing substantial has changed. The global capitalist economy is still bogged down in a crisis of relative overproduction and falling demand. Unemployment, low paid employment and precarious forms of employment are still endemic in all countries, in or out of any federal system of states. The world is still full of failed or failing nation states with regard to internal wars and refugee exodus, or with regard to the post-second world war consensus on welfare reforms. The effects of climate change, pollution and ecological damage continue to rapidly accumulate. There is still a gigantic gap between the 1% (or less) and the 99% (or more) and none of the mainstream politicians can be even bothered to seriously challenge this state of affairs. The five-fold crisis of the capitalist mode of production is the elephant in the room which is generally ignored by the elite and was absolutely ignored by all the sides in the Brexit debate.
The results of the Brexit referendum produced figures of approximately 17.4 million in favour of leaving and close to 16.2 million to stay. This bifurcated result has been promoted as a new substantial division between the citizens of the UK, but this too is merely to glance at appearances without considering many underlying factors. It was presented as a single issue referendum, and on the surface it was, but this is to ignore what is going on below the political surface of European society in general and the UK in particular. Among the population in general, there is deep seated anger concerning the economic and social welfare under the neo-liberal phase of the capitalist mode of production. There are far more losers than winners in this new phase of capital accumulation. The Brexit referendum needs to be viewed with regard to this underlying socio-economic picture.
Of course on both sides there were also those who had different outcomes in mind. The right-wing, racist politicians among other things desired a return to nationalistic views, whilst some financiers and production firms wanted advantageous terms for present and future profit taking. The elite politicians no doubt had in mind their future careers beyond politics – for them any lucrative seat in Brussels or the IMF is better than none. This mixture of temporary allies were successful in recruiting large sections of the population to vote their way, but the voting behaviour did not necessarily reflect the same motives as the leaders of both campaigns. In the confusion and contradiction of the pre-vote debate, some UK citizens may have just voted out of dislike for certain politicians, others may have voted because they liked, or hated less, certain politicians. Others may have tossed a mental coin to decide. Yet others may have simply boycotted the whole shabby charade.
Yet there were undoubtedly millions who thought (or hoped) that their situation would not get worse if they stayed within the EEC/EU. There were also millions on the leave side who thought (or hoped) that things would not get worse (as they have in Greece etc.) if they left this crumbling capitalist federal alliance. In other words, for the bulk of the population the real division was over how to prevent things getting worse and hopefully would get better. For the bulk of the population there was (and is) the desire for things to get better, for improvements to hospitals, wages and salaries, job security, pensions, savings etc. In my estimation, the difference for the majority of the UK population was a difference in how best to achieve those outcomes, not a difference over what these outcomes should be. Yet the interests of the elite is to talk up the blame game to create an atmosphere in which what happens next economically and financially – and because of the profound nature of the crisis it will all be negative – will be the fault of one side or another.
And any blame game taking place among the oppressed and exploited in the aftermath of Brexit is the greatest danger. It has already begun among the political elite and they will try to involve others. Indeed it has already begun among the left, including the ’socialist’ left. After only one or two days we are witnessing the ‘don’t blame me’ disclaimer in articles and posts, which only others on the left will probably read. This attitude assumes there are literally millions to blame for what follows – not the capitalist mode of production! How ill-considered is that, from so-called ‘socialists’? Such sectarian posturing of imagining there is a ‘correct’ line on everything – and only they know it – is to be expected, but also to be resisted. An allied danger is labelling all those who voted out because of immigration fears as racists or fascists. This would be a grave mistake and cause serious divisions. Not all those who voted one way are racists and not all who voted the other way are paradigms of virtue. Blaming the victims of the capitalist mode of production, for being under the influence of bourgeois prejudices (where they actually are) and for not immediately drawing revolutionary conclusions, is itself a product of bourgeois or petite-bourgeois modes of elitist thinking.
The real revolutionary-humanist non-sectarian position with regard to the Brexit vote is to remind the workers and others on both sides of the vote that their real problem lies with the capitalist mode of production and not with each other. The task, among other things, is to point out that their shared goals for decent homes and standards of living depend upon not blaming each other but of coming together to change the mode of production. The task is to explain that all the negative symptoms raining down upon the vast majority of the world’s populations are the results of a mode of production which has outlived its ‘sell by date‘, never mind its ‘use by date‘. It is time for a revolutionary change – at the very least in thinking – not time to use this Brexit side-show as an excuse to indulge in a reformist blame game.
Roy Ratcliffe (June 2016)