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The Brexit Referendum: A Historic Moment in Europe’s Slide to Fascism

Originally posted 26th June 2016

Pro Brexit Rally, London UK, organised by UKIP with far right ...

This is indeed a ‘historic moment’, and will be seen as a key

date in future histories of Europe’s current descent into open

fascism. The Brexit movement was driven, first and foremost, by

hostility to foreigners (immigrants), supplemented on occasion

by some pseudo-leftist rhetoric, with an overall narrative

framework emphasizing the decline of national supremacy and

the need to reverse this. The three main elements, that is,

constituent of fascism.

 

Some of my leftist friends tell me this kind of

characterization of Brexit doesn’t help, that it puts the backs up

of sections of the white working class. But the requirements of

political activism cannot be privileged above those of intellectual

honesty; and any strategy lacking an honest assessment of the

real situation is doomed to failure anyhow, however politely we

put things.

 

This proto-fascist movement, then, as I shall continue to

call it, will provide – and clearly, judging by their elated

statements, has already provided – a major boost to all the far

right and proto-fascist forces on the continent. As these forces

are empowered ‘on the streets’ this will, obviously, increase the

physical threat already faced by immigrants and refugees across

the continent. At the same time, it will push European

governments, and the EU itself, in the direction of ever more

hostile policies towards immigrants and refugees, to show they

have ‘listened to’ and ‘understood’ the ‘message’ of the Brexit

vote. This trajectory already exists within the EU, as evident in

the rapid turnaround, under far right pressure, from the initial,

fairly humane, principle proposed by the EU in response to the

Syrian refugee crisis two years ago – to disperse refugees across

the continent according to a quota based on the wealth and

population of host countries – to the policy of allowing refugees

to drown, sinking their boats, or sending them back to Turkey.

All these tendencies will now be greatly strengthened.

 

On an ideological level, Brexit has deepened, legitimized

and popularized the scapegoating of immigrants for the

economic consequences of neoliberal capitalism. Poverty, low

wages, unemployment, and declining public services are all now

associated, in the public mind, with immigration. This

ideological work, of course, did not begin with Brexit, but has

been greatly boosted and developed by it. By drawing attention

away from failures of government policy and the economic

system – cuts to public services, housing and wage markets

heavily skewed in favour of powerful investors, anti-union laws,

failed and costly privatisations, and the unemployment-inducing

impact of technology under capitalism, for example – it actually

allows the further, unimpeded, development of the neoliberal

agenda. And whilst Jeremy Corbyn made a valiant effort at

refocusing attention on such policies every time he discussed the

issue, this narrative was completely overwhelmed by the deluge

of anti-immigrant analysis coming from every other quarter, the

Remain camp included. Intriguingly, he is now being hounded

from within his own party for being ‘too timid’ in his

campaigning: code for not lining up strongly enough with the

anti-immigration agenda in order to ‘show the grassroots he is

listening’. Unfortunately, centuries of colonial supremacist

brainwashing has taken its toll on the collective psyche of this

nation, and that worldview continues to be backed up by

material privileges accruing to the British section of the global

working class. Indeed, it is precisely the defence of declining

privileges which is the guiding principle of fascism (as opposed

to socialism, which advocates liberation of the entire proletariat,

rather than privileges for one section of it).

 

We are told this vote is the democratic will of the people.

Yet democracy, if it means anything, means that those affected

by political decisions are able to exert some influence over those

decisions. In this case, millions of those affected – indeed, the

most affected, EU immigrants themselves (British taxpayers, no

less) – were barred from voting. Their combined vote would

certainly have tipped the vote the other way, by quite a margin.

The vote itself was thus illegitimate and undemocratic, and it is

testament to just how fearful mainstream politicians are of

voicing ‘pro-migrant’ sentiment that no prominent remainer has

ever, to my knowledge, pointed this out.

 

We often hear the refrain that this was a ‘blow to the

establishment’. It was no such thing. The truth is, there was a

split in the establishment – a civil war in the Tory party, between

the centre right and the far right. The far right wing of the

establishment (led by a banker and two Etonian Cabinet

members no less) won by mobilising latent anti-immigrant

sentiment, peppered with the occasional pseudo-left policy

gimmick; again, straight out of the fascist playbook.

 

None of this, please note, is a defence of the EU. Most of

the ‘leftist’ arguments I have heard against the EU (ie, apart from

the anti-immigrant ones) have been essentially correct. It is

neoliberal, it is militarist, it is, yes, even fascist, at least in

elements of its foreign policy (drowning refugees, supporting

supremacist death squads in Libya and Ukraine). But this

trajectory will not be reversed by Brexit, either within the EU, or

within Britain. Brexit is a part of the same movement: capitalist

crisis driving a section of the establishment towards outright

fascism, mobilizing the alienated masses in the process. Brexit

will free the British ruling class to more avowedly discriminate

against immigrants, rip up (what remains of) workers rights and

environmental standards, avoid banking regulations, arm

proxies without worrying about EU arms embargoes, etc – which

will generate immense pressure for other member states be

given similar freedoms in order to bribe them to stay within the EU.

 

And the argument that the EU itself will be weakened also

seems to miss the point. The EU is merely the coordinated

actions of its members. There is no reason to think that, even if

it collapses entirely, its constituent elements will be any less

destructive. Historically, there is no basis for the belief that

fascism is any less warlike than ‘ordinary’ imperialism; quite the

contrary.

 

In its choice of question, the referendum was rigged. A

meaningful choice would have between three broad suggestions:

no change; a shift to the right; or shift to the left. Obviously this

one only included the first two. And who ever wants to vote for

the status quo? Certainly not those who have been battered by

an increasingly vicious economic system implemented by an

equally vicious political elite. The British working class have

been neglected, mocked, or demonized for years whilst their jobs

have disappeared, their wages stagnated and their public

services decimated. The tragedy is that the resulting anger has

been channelled towards the movement it has.

 

The most compelling argument I have heard in favour of

Brexit – the only potential silver lining, really – is that, by

providing new grounds for Scottish independence, it may lead to

the break-up of the UK. Such a turn of events would certainly be

welcome. But it is far from inevitable. If Scots did not vote for

independence in the middle of an oil price boom, it is unlikely

they will see independence as economically viable now prices are

barely a third of what they were then. And a new far right Brexit

government is likely to put the boot in even harder than last time

to prevent such an outcome.

 

It is time for socialists to give up on the illusion that a

genuinely internationalist socialist movement can ever take

power in the West under anything like the current conditions. It

is this illusion that leads them up such disastrous blind alleys as

supporting far right takeovers ‘just in case’ a socialist

government one day inexplicably comes about and uses that

newly found ‘sovereignty’ for something other than hounding

foreigners or granting impunity to financiers. Rather, we need to

organize a genuinely internationalist socialist movement that is

realistic about what it can and can’t achieve, and provides

whatever it can in the way of ideological resistance and practical

solidarity to those under attack – from either ‘wing’ of the ruling

class

 

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