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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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Brexit, Russia and neofascism – my last ever appearance (presumably) on RT

Full transcript (including bits not broadcast on the video) 
Q: So Theresa May called it [her Brexit deal with the EU] a decisive step. Is this really the breakthrough she’s claiming, or could it all fall apart?
A: It could certainly fall apart. The deal itself is no surprise really. It basically amounts to the UK effectively staying in a customs union and Northern Ireland effectively staying in the single market – some version of which was always bound to happen since the government decided they didn’t want to reimpose a hard border in Ireland. There was going to be no other way round it really. So the deal is no surprise, and of course it will be spun by the Brexiteers, and is already being spun, as a major betrayal.
But the important thing about Brexit is that it has been a major victory for the far right. It’s a project of the far right and it’s already been a victory for them: it’s normalised virulent anti-immigration discourse, and whatever kind of Brexit happens now or doesn’t happen, it will for sure be spun as a betrayal, which will be used to further mobilise ultra-nationalist revanchist sentiment.
So when the annals come to be written of Europe’s second descent into fascism, which is what we are living through right now, then Brexit will be a majorly important milestone. It’s given a huge shot in the arm to the neofascist movements that are on the rise in Europe – and, since the Brexit referendum, many have actually entered government – but the really tragic thing about this is how Russia and yourselves at RT are actually supporting this neofascist upsurge, giving platforms regularly to these movements. The Soviet Union lost 27 million people to fascism last time around, so this does not end well for Russia. Already we see Russia is supporting Trump’s war plans on Iran, facilitating the oil sanctions by pumping extra oil, quietly facilitating US-Israeli plans to drive Iran out of Syria. This is very self-defeating for Russia, and it is very tragic to watch. And we are already seeing this policy coming back to bite Russia with Putin’s United Russia party actually losing out in elections to the fascist parties in Russia. So this is a really tragic part of this whole episode; the role that Russia and yourselves at RT are playing in pushing this neofascist upsurge of which the Brexit vote was in many ways the trigger.
Q: Something you mentioned before is that a key sticking point so far has been Northern Ireland. Is there any real clarity over how this could be resolved?
A: Well, there’s clarity; it’s clear that this was going to have to be the case from the get-go. If there was not to be a reimposition of a hard border in Ireland, and there was not to be a border within the Irish Sea, then the whole of the UK would have to accept the rules and regulations of the EU to continue trading with them without a border, that was always going to have to be the case; the chequers agreement confirmed that, and ever since, Theresa May has been trying to fudge that issue and has still tried to fudge it with this agreement. But it’s clear enough, and it was always going to be that way. But like I say, the genie’s out of the bottle with Brexit: it’s been a far right driven project from the get-go – however much leftists might want to delude themselves that it’s their project, it’s not – and they’re driving the agenda. The government didn’t really want to leave the EU so they are following as close as they can to a Brexit in name only, and this was always going to be the case. But the danger is, by capitulating to this far right project, they are only mobilising it further still and giving it further grist to the mill.
Q: My thoughts were that most of the British politicians and the British citizens as a whole somehow betrayed by this deal because – don’t you think that it doesn’t match the expectations that people and the politicians had when they voted for Brexit?
A: Sure, that’s true, because everyone deluded themselves: everyone who supported Brexit projected their own fantasies of what Brexit would be and decided that was Brexit. But in fact – and I’m not a supporter of Brexit – but as the Leavers have pointed out, the government is not really committed to Brexit, so it is trying to achieve a fudge where Britain will remain as close as possible to the EU without actually being in it. But the desires of many of the Brexiteers were projections of their own fantasies. There is a parallel to be drawn with the Arab Spring. When the Arab Spring, so called, happened, people in the West, of all different political hues, just projected their own fantasies as to what it was: so liberals thought it was a liberal democratic uprising, socialists thought that it was a great class struggle, and so on. The reality is that it was none of those things; and it is the same for Brexit: Left Brexiteers delude themselves that it is this great anti-neoliberal upsurge, the far right believe there is going to be this great British Empire 2.0 nonsense; so the reality is that actual Brexit is never going to meet people’s crazed delusional fantasies; how could it ever do that?
Q: Don’t you think that tomorrow another parliament session will take place, Theresa May is going to be attacked from both parties, because – well, I don’t expect anyone to praise her and say that it is the best deal ever.
A: Absolutely not. Well it’s really down to Labour now. Because it is unlikely the DUP will support this because, contrary to the promises made to the DUP – that there would be no separate arrangement for Northern Ireland – there will be a separate arangement for Northern Ireland, in which Northern Ireland effectively remains part of the single market, whilst the rest of the UK does not. That breaks the DUP’s red line, so they’re unlikely to support it: so straight away there Theresa May has lost her majority. And, of course, we already know that quite a sizeable handful at the least of Tory backbenchers – it could be anywhere from 30 to maybe up to 100 – will almost certainly vote against a deal – Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson have already put their cards on the table and said they’re against it, they’re not going to vote for it. So if the opposition parties oppose it then the deal is dead. So really it is up to Labour now, and there is quite a strong likelihood that, if not the official leadership, then at least a sizeable, perhaps the majority of Labour MPs, might end up supporting this deal. So Theresa May, her future and the future of her deal, is now in the hands of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.
Q: And what do you expect – what are your forecasts on a short term perspective?
A: Well it is very difficult to predict. There are a number of possibilities. One is that MPs are effectively emotionally blackmailed, or economically blackmailed, into voting for the deal. The threat from the markets, of course, will loom very large. The idea would be that if you don’t vote for this deal then we are back to the cliff-edge no-deal scenario, the pound might plummet and so forth, so there will be a lot of pressure on MPs along the lines of ‘if you don’t vote for this deal, then you will bring about an economic catastrophe on our head’. And MPs might just capitulate to that logic and just vote it through, that’s possible. The other option, of course, then is that MPs vote it down. And then where do we go from there? The option is then a no-deal or reverse Brexit. And to be honest, I think all three options are really on the table. It’s impossible to predict. I think the majority of praliamentarians – the vast majority of whom were remainers – would obviously prefer to reverse Brexit than to have a no-deal Brexit. But how they bring that about, through another referendum, through another election, is very hard to foresee. But I still think that it is quite likely, still, that article 50 is revoked. If the deal is not voted through, and Theresa May’s government falls, then the new government may just decide to rescind article 50 and say, look, we can’t go for a no-deal Brexit, it’s too damaging, there’s no parliamentary majority for the deal, so that leaves only – we’ll just have to reverse article 50. And the post-Theresa May government – of whatever political party – may well consider that the only viable option. So i think that is still a very realistic possibility.
Q: And how likely is it that Theresa May’s government will fall?
A: Well, as I say, it’s really on a knife edge. If the deal doesn’t win parliamentary support, I think it will be difficult for Theresa May to carry on. However, of course, then there is the issue of – would her own party risk seeing her government fall, potentially triggering a general election that they might lose? But the [Brexiteer] conservative backbenchers – they play a long game. They were willing to sit back and let Theresa May dig her own grave; I think they may well be willing to sit back and let Jeremy Corbyn dig his own grave as well. People like Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are strategic thinkers, very machiavellian, and they play a long game. So I think these kind of people would be willing to risk even a Labour government if they believed that that government itself would fall over the issue of Brexit, allowing them to then come back in the future and pick up the pieces. There are precedents for this. The Tories did this in the early 1920s: they handed over power to Labour, when they didn’t have to, knowing that Labour would alienate its own supporters, demoralise its support base, and then they could storm back into power, which is exactly what happened. So I think Theresa May’s government could fall – on its own sword – because these guys play a long game.