The left case for remain

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Ian Taylor in September’s SR and Shaun Doherty in the October issue remind us that Brexit has unleashed a major crisis for the British ruling class and the Tories, caused by the anti-establishment vote to leave the EU.

But it has also created a major problem for the left and the forces of European anti-racism.

The EU is an unelected bureaucracy largely committed to neoliberal policies such as privatisation. In 2015 it hammered Greece with the imposition of austerity. It colluded with European governments that allowed hundreds of migrants to drown in the Mediterranean.

On the other hand, it supports important rights — women’s and workers’ rights — it upholds environmental protections and provides major support for the arts. Nor would the EU necessarily prevent a Labour government from renationalising the railways. Some have argued that its main requirement is that the management of infrastructure and rail services be kept separate but that they could remain publicly owned. European rail companies remain mostly in public ownership.

However, the left argument for Remain was always tactical and never depended on the EU being a haven of socialist internationalism. The Leave vote was anti-establishment but on a right wing, populist basis with a strong anti-immigrant slant, according to a new study at the University of East Anglia.

Its beneficiaries have been the Tory right, UKIP and the far-right. According to Home Office figures reported by the BBC, the referendum result was followed by a 41 percent spike in anti-immigrant hate crimes. It also gave a significant boost to far-right forces in Europe, for example in Germany and France.

According to Raffaello Pantucci in the Guardian (28 June 2016), “the result of Britain’s referendum on EU membership has strengthened far-right activism across Europe.”

The ending of free movement to Britain is a major blow to the anti-racist struggle. Brexit is also likely to have an adverse effect on working class living standards. Far from encouraging class resistance, the Leave vote has strengthened the forces of racism and petty nationalism.

In the past, Marx argued for the unification of Germany even though it would be dominated by an autocratic Prussia. Trotsky argued similarly in 1917: “If the capitalist states of Europe succeeded in merging into an imperialist trust, this would be a step forward compared with the existing situation, for it would first of all create a unified, all-European material base for the working-class movement. The proletariat would in this case have to fight not for the return to ‘autonomous’ national states, but for the conversion of the imperial state trust into a European Republican Federation.”

Sabby Sagall
London