Brexit Vote Only Highlights Global Capitalism’s Impasse

The article which follows is the editorial to the recently published Revolutionary Perspectives 08 and the articles it refers are those in the current issue. These will be published in due course but anyone wanting a paper copy now can get it for £4 (UK) by using the means advertised on the side panel of our website.

In normal circumstances “democracy” is just the figleaf for the dictatorship of the capitalist class. However a vote turns out, it generally conforms to their interests as the article on the US elections in this issue demonstrates. As we previously wrote [1] it is not the first time in history that the pursuit of short-term political expediency has gone against the long term class interests of a regime. Cameron’s and Osborne’s arrogant “Eton mess” of holding a referendum of 54 million adults because they feared a split in a Tory Party of 125,000 has not just led to their personal downfall but has revealed a ruling class truly in crisis.

This even engulfs Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. The Parliamentary Labour Party is openly fighting amongst itself over how best to fool the working class into supporting the system. As the two articles in this issue show, Corbyn is doing his job in this but his programme is nothing like anti-capitalist despite the illusions of some of his supporters.

But these are not normal times and behind all the cock-ups lies a deeper reality. In the face of intractable economic stagnation the British ruling class are losing the plot. None of their strategies for reviving growth have worked, as the article on the economic crisis in this issue shows. After eight years of austerity the UK has a record current account deficit [2] and the mountain of debt is greater than ever. The vote against the EU was really a vote against an accumulation of factors.

Thatcher’s deliberate deindustrialisation of the 1980s and 1990s decimated the earning potential of whole communities and the few jobs which followed were nowhere near as well paid. Blairism always ignored the victims as it chased the vote of “Middle England”. Brown’s answer was simply to offer in-work benefits to the low paid. These went down the pan when the speculative bubble burst. The bankers were bailed out but the working class paid for this in austerity policies which have driven more and more into poverty. The great lie is that this was all to do with immigration. Blaming the 3 million people who have come from the EU as part of

its freedom of movement policy was the simple vote-catching issue latched onto by UKIP and the racist Right. “Brexit” became the choice for many who have suffered due to the crisis but don’t understand the real cause of their hardships. The enduring legacy of this campaign has not only given every racist gobshite confidence but has already seen the murder of an MP and a doubling of reported racist assaults on those who are perceived to be migrants (Poles and Muslims mainly).

This only confirms what we have said since the referendum on the UK’s EU membership was announced. This was no affair of the working class [3]. As the campaign developed it was clear that it became a campaign, on both sides, against any idea of a working class alternative and in the end the campaign obliterated the very idea of a “working class” altogether. Sure we were told that Britain was “divided” but not between classes. For the scribblers of the capitalist press it was young versus old, London versus the regions, Scotland versus England, racists versus liberals or any distinction you care to make – except that of class. Whichever way the vote went

the attack on working class living and working conditions that has been so sustained since 2008 is destined to continue. With Brexit our rulers have just another excuse for imposing the further misery that they had already planned.

Alongside dire economic consequences Brexit has been called by one Tory grandee “the greatest constitutional crisis of modern times”. Indeed it could presage the break-up of the UK itself. In the Scottish referendum debate membership of the EU was central to the argument on both sides and Scotland voted overwhelmingly for Remain. The economic situation (and halving of the oil price) has now upset the economic arguments of the SNP but if Brexit brings more short-term misery a second independence referendum cannot be ruled out. Brexit will certainly do nothing to calm sectarian divisions in Northern Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement was, after all underwritten by the EU status of both the UK and the Irish Republic. Whilst the Nationalist areas voted Remain the Unionist areas voted out. The former are now calling for a united Ireland with renewed vigour.

As the uncertainty lingers on there will be other economic consequences but Brexit or not the capitalist world is already heading for a new recession.

The consequences are not much better for the rest of the capitalist world. The US has lost its “Trojan Horse” into the EU. After the fall of the USSR it was the UK which pushed for the “broadening” of the EU into Eastern Europe (alongside the drive to take NATO to the borders of Russia). Of all the European countries the UK (as the publication of the Chilcot report shows) has been the link between the US and the “coalition of the willing” (and not-so-willing) behind US imperialist adventures in the Middle East. The UK also represents a quarter of all EU imports from the US so the negotiations on TTIP are now likely to be much more difficult. There is even some speculation that the treaty will never get signed.

For the EU the consequences are likely to be worse. The same pressures of debt-burdened economic stagnation are leading to the traditional ruling parties losing their grip across the continent. The in-fighting we have seen in Britain is also engulfing the French Socialist Party as the Socialist Government has to use rule by decree to get an anti-working class measure past its own deputies. Meanwhile neo-fascists like Marine Le Pen of the Front National, and Geert Wilders have already called for French and Dutch referendums to exit the EU, whilst the rise of the AfD in Germany further exemplifies the narrow nationalism that is increasingly dominant across the continent from Poland to Portugal. German Finance Minister Schäuble concluded that after Brexit “visions are off the agenda” for the European project which will now have to change in order to survive.

Capitalism has been without a vision for some time. As the world economy stagnates so too does world trade which has not increased for 18 months. Whilst G20 ministers can utter pious platitudes against more protectionism the WTO is warning that it is creeping up slowly in the world economy [4]. Not only might the TTIP agreement be abandoned but both candidates in the US are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership proposed by Obama. Trump has already said he will tear up the North American Free Trade Area agreement to buy the votes of ex-blue collar workers.

We have argued many times that capitalism in the imperialist epoch needs war periodically to carry out a massive devaluation of capital that can kickstart a new cycle of accumulation. However we have always said that this depends on other factors being in place first. At the moment the Great Powers delude themselves that an economic recovery will take place and all will be well at home and abroad. However, if historical precedent is anything to go by, protectionism would make the world a more dangerous place. Trade wars are often the precursors of shooting wars and as the global capitalist class loses its grip around the world who can say where this will take us. Recent developments in the Ukraine, the Middle East, Central Asia and the South China Sea

already give plenty of arenas where the next conflict might break out.

Only the world working class can oppose the barbarism capitalism offers us. This means not putting our trust in any elected politician but in ourselves. The daily resistance to austerity policies has to be linked to the fight for a better world and this can only be done if the working class creates its own political body, a revolutionary and internationalist political party capable of uniting and giving a lead to workers everywhere. The last article in this issue gives some idea of our conception of how such a party would operate and we invite responses.




3 See

4 See “World Trade languishes as economies opt for greater protectionism” Financial Times 14 July 2016

Thursday, August 4, 2016

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