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British workers’ vote to exit EU creates instability for imperialists in EU and U.K.

By David Hoskins

The British vote to leave the European Union (EU) on June 23 has been recognized by communist and worker organizations across Europe as a substantial victory for the British and European working classes in the fight against EU austerity. However, the intentional media spotlight on the racist and xenophobic declarations of some Leave supporters, such as the former leader of the far-right UK Independence Party, Nigel Farage, masks the progressive nature of the leave vote and has left some progressives wondering if Brexit (British exit from the EU) and racism are synonymous.

Farage, who recently resigned as UK Independence Party leader, and some of the other racist Leave campaigners, including former London Mayor Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party, stirred up hatred against immigrants in general, and Muslim refugees in particular. And the media dutifully ate it up, magnifying the racist voices and ignoring the many anti-racist worker organizations, trade unions, and community groups that supported Britain’s exit from the EU on progressive grounds.

By doing so, the media stoked the flames of national chauvinism and distracted from the class content of the anti-EU sentiment that had already reached a boiling point among British workers well before the Farage and Johnson circus stormed Britain on their anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim crusade.

The situation has only been exacerbated by the fact that the Labour Party, including its embattled leader, Jeremy Corbyn, abandoned Britain’s working class and ceded the debate for leaving the EU to reactionary forces by campaigning to remain in the EU contrary to the clear interests of the British working class. If Corbyn, an extraordinarily progressive figure in modern Labour Party politics, had hoped that campaigning to remain in the EU would buy him the support of more conservative Labour leaders who otherwise oppose his leadership, he now knows he was sorely mistaken. Corbyn unfortunately lost a no confidence vote by a margin of 172 to 40 among his fellow Labour lawmakers following the vote to exit the EU, according to the New York Times.

The media, through its collusion with the likes of Farage and Johnson, is responsible for the increased incidents of racist attacks in Britain, including the shocking assassination of Jo Cox, a Labour member of parliament (MP) who, despite her support for imperialist intervention in Syria, vocally supported immigration. It is no surprise in this context that many Black, Asian and Muslim voters cast their ballot to remain in the EU out of fear that a vote to exit was a vote for a racist, anti-immigrant backlash against their communities.

By framing the vote as a referendum on immigration and dividing the working class anti-austerity vote, the media served the interests of the majority of British capitalists who wished to remain in the EU. According to polling by the Confederation of British Industry, it almost worked.

While all of this shows the need to shift the struggle to the capitalists in their own country, none of it negates the fact that many British workers left the EU because they rejected the continuance of austerity. And none of it negates the fact that in voting to leave, British workers are weakening the EU.

Weakening the imperialist European Union is objectively progressive

Britain is an imperialist country and historic colonial power whose empire once extended to, and exploited, almost one-quarter of the world’s population and one-quarter of the earth’s total land mass, according to Al Jazeera. The European Union is a collection of imperialist countries and historic colonial powers whose empires, kingdoms, and republics once extended to, and exploited, the whole world over with the rare exception of a few countries such as Ethiopia, according to information from Eric Hobsbawm’s The Age of Empire.

A 2012 report by the European Commission identified German, Italian, English, French and Spanish as the dominant languages of the EU. Add to this Portuguese and Dutch and it becomes a veritable Who’s Who of languages for colonizers and slave traders. The imperialist character of the individual EU member states is strengthened by the European Union, not weakened by it.

The EU compels austerity against its own member states, including smaller nation-states such as Ireland and Greece, as French and German capital, particularly German, seek hegemony within the Union. The EU has also proved itself a force for imperialist war, not peace. It has avoided another ‘Great War’ following World War II and instead has helped ensure that the imperialist powers making up the EU consistently point their guns at their former colonies instead of at each other.

Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom (among other EU member states) have all remained in NATO throughout the history of the EU. All of these countries participated in the NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, according to BBC News. Many participated in the invasion of Iraq and continue to support intervention in countries such as Libya and Syria.

Breaking up this united imperialist front, which provides little except austerity for workers at home and war and occupation for workers in the oppressed countries that EU countries formerly colonized, is objectively progressive. There is no evidence of any child living in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Libya, or Iran losing sleep over Britain’s exit from the EU. A united Europe with guns pointed at these children is the main danger the oppressed nations face from the various European imperialist powers.

There is evidence that the courage of Britain’s working class in turning its back on austerity is having positive anti-imperialist ripple effects throughout the EU. The most obvious is that it has reignited the possibility of an exit from the EU by other member states, which would further weaken imperialist unity in Europe. The Washington Post identifies Greece, Sweden, Hungary, Netherlands, Denmark and France as additional countries where referendums to exit the EU are now most likely to gain new momentum.

As in Britain, the anti-EU sentiment in these countries is full of contradictions and there is a right-left divide as to the rationale for the exit with a strong progressive sentiment against austerity, especially in Greece, mixed in with a resurgent nationalist right wing that seeks to de-class the anti-EU struggle with appeals to national chauvinism and ‘country first’ politics. According to German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, Dimitris Papadimoulis, leader of the Syriza party in the European Parliament, which firmly opposed Britain’s exit from the EU, acknowledged the risk of EU dissolution saying, “The left should be standing firm on this big challenge as neoliberal and austerity policies have completely failed. The EU must change: Otherwise, it will face the risk of dissolution.”

Much attention has rightly been paid to the racist nature of British resistance to the EU’s liberal immigration rules. It is certainly xenophobic and backward when an imperialist country resists immigration of almost any sort. However, telling only this part of the story fails to account for the racist nature of the EU’s own immigration rules. According to the Telegraph, EU rules discriminate against non-European immigrants by granting only EU citizens an automatic right to live in another EU member state.

Recently, the EU has been accused of killing by neglect after 400 refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea drowned in the Mediterranean Sea when their boat capsized, according to the Independent. The tragedy comes after EU policymakers, who treat the migrant crisis as a border security issue, cut rescue missions in the Mediterranean.

The fact that racists like Nigel Farage and a substantial minority of British capitalists support leaving the EU does not negate the objectively progressive nature of weakening the EU. The same holds true in the U.S. when it comes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to a 2014 report for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, NAFTA has cost at least 845,000 U.S. working-class jobs, primarily in manufacturing. Meanwhile, food prices have spiked and real wages have fallen in both the U.S. and Mexico. A minimum wage earner in Mexico today can afford 38% fewer consumer goods as on the day that NAFTA took effect

Communist organizations, leftist writers, and labor unions in the U.S. almost uniformly oppose NAFTA. So did (and does) crypto-fascist Pat Buchanan, the runner-up in the 1992 Republican presidential primary. Today, Donald Trump, a racist and xenophobe on par with Britain’s Nigel Farage, also claims to oppose NAFTA and support a withdrawal or renegotiation of that treaty. The opposition of NAFTA by racists like Buchanan and Trump has never necessitated a change in the left’s opposition to NAFTA, and it does not do so now.

The objective interests of the working class and the oppressed dictate support for a withdrawal from NAFTA, much the same as they dictate support for any country’s withdrawal from the EU.

Organizations of workers and the oppressed in Europe strongly support British exit from EU

Communist parties in Britain are overwhelmingly united in their consistent support of the right of the British working class to exit the EU. The Communist Party of Britain, Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), New Communist Party of Britain, Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), and many other British socialist and communist organizations all rejected the false choice between national chauvinism on the one hand and capitulation to EU austerity on the other hand.

The communist and socialist parties were joined by unions and other progressive organizations, including the Indian Workers Association (GB) and the Bangladeshi Workers Council of Britain. No one is more aware of the dangers of British national chauvinism than the Indian and Bangladeshi people, who have experienced extreme national oppression at the hands of British imperialism as former colonies subject to direct British Crown Rule from 1858 to 1947. Today, Bangladeshi and Indian workers living in Britain face the daily racist discrimination, living as immigrants and the descendants of immigrants in the same country their former colonial rulers call home. Yet these two important organizations of the nationally oppressed living in Britain joined with other progressive forces to campaign for Britain’s exit from the EU.

The progressive Leave voices in Britain are bolstered by the many communist and workers’ organizations across Europe that enthusiastically support the historic decision by Britain’s working class to abandon the EU’s austerity regime. The Communist Party of Ireland, Communist Party of Greece, Portuguese Communist Party, Communist Party (Switzerland), Communist Party, Turkey, New Communist Party of the Netherlands, and New Communist Party of Yugoslavia are among those issuing strong statements of encouragement to the British organizations that successfully stood up to austerity while refusing to cave to racism, national chauvinism or xenophobia.

Left Leave forces in Britain project progressive vision, take on capitalist racism and reaction at home

Britain’s working class organizations are stepping up the fight at home against the capitalist regime based in London, which serves the interests of British finance capital just as the EU served German and French (and British) finance capital.

While their voices were drowned out by the media focus on the racist and xenophobic forces, the anti-austerity perspective and vision for a progressive future won over many of the working class voters who supported the decision to leave the EU. In its analysis of the need for British workers to exit the EU, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) discussed the fact that British workers have enemies on both sides, meaning the perpetrators of austerity in the EU as well as the racists and capitalists at home in Britain, and articulated a vision for exiting the EU that would both secure workers’ rights and weaken all imperialist rulers, including the British ruling class.

Many of the organizations supporting the British exit from the EU have called for the mobilization of progressive forces in Britain to defend immigration and to transform the country into a safe haven for refugees. There have also been widespread calls for campaigns, street mobilizations and industrial actions against privatization, war and anti-worker trade deals.

A coalition of communist and socialist parties, trade unions and progressive issue-based groups have called for a mass emergency demonstration on July 16. The coalition, many of whose members supported leaving the EU, is raising demands against austerity and racism at home. Specifically, the coalition is demanding consolidation of banking institutions into a publicly owned banking system, increased taxes on the rich, a 35-hour workweek, a program to build 250,000 new social homes each year, an end to privatization of public services, and increased unionization.

The media can, and may, continue to ignore the progressive dimensions of the left forces that fought to leave the EU on an anti-austerity basis. But that doesn’t make the left’s analysis any less impactful, their demands any less just, or their appeal to a large section of Britain’s working class any less powerful. And it doesn’t make breaking up the EU anything less than objectively progressive.

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