Originally posted 26th June 2016
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 poopulation 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, legitimised 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 supremacistr 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
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