“The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood.” - Communist Manifesto
"Joking aside, Brexit won't make any difference. The rich will still be rich, the poor will still be poor, and we'll still blame foreigners." - Ricky Gervais
Fascinating though Brexit has been for all of us, what’s particularly interesting for a socialist is how involved ‘we’ have become in it all. People at work or in the pub have been arguing that ‘we’ need this or ‘we’ should do that, and asking what ‘we’ can do about the backstop or what will happen if ‘we’ get a no-deal. Where did this national solidarity come from? Why do ordinary, interesting people suddenly think they have formed common cause with the country’s rulers and rich elite? What sleight of hand has pulled the wool over the great class divide to the extent that workers don’t see this affair for what it is, a dispute among the rich themselves over where with whom and under what terms they can trade?
Somehow we’ve all been sucked into the media frenzy so we’re all part of the in-group of Britain PLC, scratching our heads over Theresa May’s difficult position between the proverbial rock and the hard place. You’d understand this nationalistic bonding in a wartime scenario, with bombs falling out of the sky, but what’s the threat here? A few prices might go up. Some funding might go down. The Irish might have to have a border. You might have to pay €7 extra for your EU holiday. Really it’s not worth getting worked up about, but a kind of collective insanity has possessed the population. It’ll be just as well when it’s over, and the working class can get back to its usual business of ignoring the class war and moaning about the neighbours instead.
So when the Brexiteers say 'We are taking our country back', are we also going to take our workplaces back? Take control over our own labour back? No one ever talks about that, do they? One of the few positives from the Brexit result is that there is now a growing chorus on the fact that globalisation has not kept its promises - wealth for everybody. On the contrary, it has created a dramatic social inequality, with few people having the bulk of national wealth, and many left out. It seems that those supporting Remain concentrated too much on attacking Brexit and failed to emphasise the title of the Socialist Party statement that 'The problem is not the EU - it's capitalism' and so neglected to address and challenge the thinking of workers in Leave areas that the EU was the cause of the problems they faced.
There are sound reasons why some capitalists and politicians wish to retain the EU’s political and economic union. The failure of governments across the world to successfully tackle the many problems which have beset the capitalist economy since its inception has led many to the conclusion that action to reform and mould capitalism cannot be successfully undertaken within the borders of any one single nation state. The growing inter-locking of the capitalist economy has been seen—with a degree of justification—as a force which no longer gives automatic recognition to the individual nation. Complete withdrawal, i.e no deal, would be going against the trend under capitalism towards the concentration and centralisation of capital and so would be putting the clock back from that point of view. It could happen but it is bound to slow down the accumulation of capital in Britain. And if that happens the capitalist class will be very annoyed with their bungling political representatives, their “executive committee”.
Will Brexit – whether hard or soft – do anything to solve the problems people in this country are suffering from - job insecurity, inequality, poverty, crime, poor healthcare? The answer has to be ‘no’. And the reason is that these problems don’t come from particular constitutional arrangements. They come from the way society is organised – production for profit and ownership of the vast majority of the wealth by a tiny minority of people: the global system of capitalism.
If you don't like present-day society – with or without Brexit. If you’re fed up with the way so many people are forced to live – hanging on for dear life to a job that gives little satisfaction and doing it just for the money. If you are sick of seeing grinding poverty alongside obscene wealth. If you are sick of the Earth being abused by corporations who don’t care about the future or the environment. If you think the root cause of most problems is the market system and the governments that maintain that system. . . then you’re thinking like we are.
Brexiteers and Remainers will persist in presenting the illusion that their interests are in the interests of us the working class, the “national interest”, when in the end, there is very little for us as a class to gain, although at an individual level there may be advantages and disadvantages. Our role as a socialist party is to offer a class analysis which has led us to conclude that we should stand aside regards support or no support for those who say they speak for us but instead continue to criticise the hypocrisy of them all. The one small favour the Brexit debate has done for us is to nail once and for all the lie that there is a "national interest" we all share. Some businesses depend on exports, some depend on imports, some don't depend on either, but resent any regulation or interference in their business. For them, tariff barriers and trade deals are important.
All the business leaders try and convince the rest of us that their interest is our interest that their profits are our jobs. Yet we know that despite years of continued growth (and profitability) our wages are not growing along with their profits. Desperate to persuade us we have a dog in the fight, their hirelings scream about migrants, our fellow workers who move home for work. Yet, study after study shows that migratory workers don't depress wages. It's the bosses who depress wages, and the employers who cause unemployment.
A working person in London will always have more in common with a worker from Slovakia or Slovenia than they ever will have with a British capitalist, or anyone else who wants to divide the world up for profit.