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Apropos the Referendum in Great-Britain

The Erratic Course of Capitalism and its Paradoxical Effects

The result of the British referendum, amounting to Britain leaving the E.U., has called up numerous reactions. The surprise of the majority of observers and commentators returns to the hesitations of the politically responsible, English, European in general, and beyond (for instance, Obama has expressed regretting the outcome). Several political groups that refer to the working class and the proletarian revolution have expressed themselves on the subject as well. [1]

Whereas the referendum’s outcome has indeed been a surprise, and the British rulers who have initiated it (PM Cameron in the first place) have made a very bad political calculation, it remains no less valid that – beyond a media battle on a presumed total upheaval of the situation in Europe (and still further according to some) - the same financial, economic and political imperatives will impose themselves on the different fractions of the national bourgeoisie; the same politics of attacks against the working and living conditions of the population will be carried out.

A referendum as a moment of haggling

The media sell us the story of this referendum as if it represented an event of quasi-historical importance. According to them the consequences of this vote are likely to submerge the whole of the European economies into crisis, to provoke a monetary crisis, to sustainably undermine the financial markets and to steep economic growth into an irreversible slump, not to mention the deep crisis the English political class finds itself in.

Making us believe that everything went well so far; that economic growth was assured, that the economies of the European countries were constant, that the bourgeoisies did not have difficulties in managing their affairs, in applying the measures against the populations. Whom are they trying to fool?

The modifications this vote will entail are not very clearly defined; uncertainty remains as to the date they will be in effect. Some commentators of English politics note that, according to the constitutional principles of the country, this kind of vote has to be ratified by Parliament in order to be applied. And within Parliament the different expressions of the British bourgeoisie have to take the outcome of the referendum into account, at least formally. This means that the date at which the separation will be effective depends on the good will of the British politicians and that the modalities of the future relations between Great-Britain and the European Union are far from being established.

The way in which Britain and the whole of the E.U. will continue their relations is put in question and already promises nice scuffles between, on the one hand, the countries most favorable to continuing and deepening the measures of “liberalization” of the markets and, on the other hand, those favorable to modifying this politics and preserving an important role for every state in the economic orientations of the country concerned. [2]

On this question of the orientation of political economy weeks of bargaining have taken place between Britain and the E.U. During a large part of the spring the British government has put forward conditions to continuing its participation in the E.U. The stakes were just about the level of “liberalization” the British bourgeoisie liked to see. [3] For Britain the “free market” of the E.U. represents an essential outlet, notably in the financial sector, in which the City is one of the dominant actors at world level and the most important one in Europe. The obstinate refusal of Britain to be part of the Euro-zone and of the Schengen zone is no “chauvinistic caprice” but is intended to defend, for one part, London’s financial place and, for the other part, to remain in control of its borders against every attempt by European institutions to stick their noses in the “gray” fiscal zones depending from the kingdom. [4]

Summing up, the loud noise about the episode of “Brexit” is hiding the discussions and disputes between the different bourgeois fractions in the whole of Europe about the best way to make the populations endure the crisis and its effects, and to seize the largest possible part of an ever more shrinking “cake”.

The voting ballot, the most efficient weapon of the dominant class

In absence of a clear political class perspective, the increasingly marked distrust of the populations against the political class translates, for one part, by the emergence or strengthening of so-called “populist” currents and, for the other part, by a growing indifference towards the electoral circus (the two phenomena are inter-related).

Whereas the emergence of “extremist” parties of left-wing populist tendency – like Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece – or of the rightist kind – like Wilders in the Netherlands or the FN in France – does not pose any problem to the bourgeoisies of these countries, who are well capable to integrate them in their traditional political game and use them to their ends, the (relative) desertion of the polling stations is much more problematic for the dominant class.

Faced with the crisis and the measures taken by the different governments – be they from the right or the left – ever more people refuse to make a choice from candidates who, once they have been elected and whatever the promises they have made, carry out the same attacks as their predecessors. Some link themselves to the “populist” parties I already mentioned; others do not even want to turn out in order to take part in this lamentable spectacle.

The problem for the ruling class does not consist so much of the low rate of participation but lies in the fact that those who renounce taking part in the circus may very likely look for other means to make themselves heard. And, let us hope, to find these means through a struggle on a class terrain. [5] For this ruling class it is important to do everything possible to give back some splendor to the old voting ballot. In this framework, the “populists” represent a twofold interest for the ruling class, and it sort of keeps them with their household because it cannot do otherwise. A twofold interest nonetheless because these parties bring back people to the terrain of the ballot who had left it and who, on the other hand, serve as a remedy by creating false oppositions (for instance by agitating the “fascist danger”, a specialty notably of the extreme left).

With the question of the “Brexit” we are confronted with another attempt to polish up the tainted blazon of the voting ballot : the referendum! We are told that the population expresses itself directly and makes essential choices for its own future (and for “the future of the country”!). [6] It has to be noted that the rate of participation by the British population has beaten the records and there is no doubt that this was one of the objectives set by Cameron and the whole of the dominant class of the isle. The risky “bet” of the referendum has possibly been lost by the outcome for “leaving”, but the essence is that the democratic illusion has regained new strength. This is unfortunately the case, at least for the moment.

And if the worst chauvinist and racist sentiments, and other nauseating reactions have played a part in this outcome, this is because agitating the red cloth of immigration by the dominant class and the media at its orders has achieved new records as well. This sort of campaign essentially aims at attributing the responsibility for the disastrous situation capitalism imposes on the populations to “strangers” and other unsavory characters. This shows once more that democracy and chauvinism (or nationalism) are good housekeepers. With the democratic propaganda, nationalist, chauvinist and anti-immigrant rhetoric are the winners of this referendum.

A nice success for the bourgeoisie; a setback for the working class

As we have said, the relations between Britain and the E.U. will not be sensibly modified by the outcome of this referendum. The hagglings between the different countries of Europe will continue, the contradictory – but for capitalism profitable! – links will not see a fundamental upheaval, to the extent that the departing PM D. Cameron would have said: “The Canal will not become larger.” The English bourgeoisie, in spite of an unexpected outcome, has managed to save the essential. The austerity measures and the attacks against the working class will aggravate and, whereas the British bourgeoisie can less attribute responsibility to the “damned European institutions”, it will always be able to take recourse to attributing it to the strangers, the immigrants, and all those “profiteers” who have come to eat the bread of the brave English!

This is a setback for the working class because democratic ideology [7] has marked its points and has attained, a little bit more, a place in the minds of the workers. Their future difficulties and the attacks they will undergo will be attributed to the “foreign” workers and they will be waged “for the good of the country”, as has been repeated to satiety during the referendum campaign.

Bernard, July 16, 2016

Translation for Controversies: Jacob, July 21, 2016

[1For instance, the CWO has published a communiqué of June 26 with the title "Brexit Vote – Another Sign of Global Capitalism’s Deepening Crisis", the ICC speaks in its article "Growing difficulties for the bourgeoisie and for the working class" of “the ruling class’ loss of control over its own political strategy”. Whereas the points of view defended by these two groups are globally correct, there appears an overestimation of the difficulties the bourgeoisie experiences faced with a road accident...

[2To give only one illustration of the radically different options agitating the European countries, let’s take the example of Germany and Poland. Both are favorable to more liberalization of the labor market – which enables Poland to “export work force”, and Germany to profit from this cheap labor – whereas France and other South European countries are rather favorable to a limitation of these transfers that penalize their fiscal revenues and the equilibrium of their social organisms. We note that Germany has a very active support of Britain in this respect. Which does not prevent Germany to be not at all inclined to make the slightest concession to Britain, neither to all its European “partners” and competitors on other subjects.

[3In the negotiations between Britain and the E.U. in February, Cameron has obtained that his country was exempted from paying social benefits to new immigrants during their first four years. It goes without saying that this agreement is no longer valid in the case of an exit from the E.U. But these measures are probably applied by the new British government.

[4These so-called “gray zones” are not so much “fiscal paradises” but regions in which the banks and other financial institutions can easily respond to requests for “optimizing” the revenues on their capitals and paying as less taxes as possible. Well known examples are Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man, not to speak of the remote islands depending from the British Crown.

[5Movements like “Occupy” in the U.S.A., the “Indignados” in Spain and, more recently, “Nuits debout” in France (“Up all night”) are an expression of this search for different means of making oneself heard. It’s a confuse expression, full of illusions and without a real future because of the absence of a class reference. But these movements manifest a discontent that has to be taken into account... in order to contribute to their overcoming.

[6Switzerland has the specificity of a system of referendums already for decades, enabling “citizens” to put all kinds of propositions to a vote, following a campaign for signing a request.

[7This ideology consists for the dominant class of make the “good people” believe it is the master of its destiny, because it is authorized to cast a ballot every 3, 4 or 5 years. Which gives all freedom to the dominant class to apply the necessary measures for the preservation of its order: the state of emergency that is in vigor in France since several months, or the press censorship in Turkey are undertaken in a “democratic” framework. Without mentioning the generalized surveillance via “Internet” and the “social networks”.