A year ago Socialist Worker welcomed the result of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union (EU). Were we right to do so?
We argued the Leave vote was contradictory, and could lead to many different outcomes.
But crucially it was “a revolt against the establishment”. “People who are generally forgotten, ignored or sneered at have delivered a stunning blow against the people at the top of society,” we wrote.
The EU is a pro-capitalist and pro-imperialist institution that acts as the guardian of the bosses’ interests across a continent.
This was seen most graphically in its strangling of the Greek Syriza-led government’s attempt to break from austerity. As Yanis Varoufakis, then Greece’s finance minister, wrote recently, the EU “effectively condemned Greece to a modern version of the Dickensian debtors’ prison.”
The EU imposes a neoliberal straitjacket on governments.
It sternly threatens doom against any attempt at a serious welfare state, let alone wide-scale nationalisation.
Socialist Worker further argued the vote would immediately force out David Cameron and destabilise the Tory party. We said this could lead to a general election that would give Jeremy Corbyn an opportunity to lead Labour to victory.
In all this we were in a small minority on the left. Most thought the result was a disaster which could only help the most reactionary elements in society, boost Ukip and clear the way for further growth of fascists.
How does all this look 12 months on?
It would be reckless to hide the fact that some racists were given confidence by the disgusting tone of the campaign and the result. Jo Cox MP was murdered by a Nazi sympathiser.
Racist attacks soared in the immediate aftermath of the Leave decision.
But these trends built on previous fascist activity and a much deeper state-sponsored racism. They were rightly met by united anti-racist action, which was not confined to those who had voted Leave or Remain.
Ukip has nose-dived. The role of its leader has become a sort of zero-hour contract post where the holder is never sure if they have employment the next day.
Cameron did go within hours of the vote. He was not replaced by one of the Leave-supporting Tories such as Boris Johnson or Michael Gove, but by the Remain supporter Theresa May.
May had a brief period of being regarded as all-powerful, but is now seen as a total dud. A general election has taken place and it saw a Corbyn-led surge for Labour and a humbling reverse for the Tories.
Corbyn’s success was at least partially because he did not join in the liberal clamour to hinder or reverse the referendum result. Furthermore he recognised the bitter anger in society underlined by the referendum and offered a left wing focus for it.
Had Corbyn retained his left wing opposition to the EU and pressed for a socialist Leave vote, it is perfectly possible he would be in Number 10 now. None of this is just about 23 June 2016–but it is far from disconnected to it.
It’s also obvious that the two years of Brexit negotiations will further undermine the Tories. This will pose near-daily reason for splits between MPs and between big business and sections of the government.
The Leave vote emboldened many anti-austerity forces across Europe and, at least in some cases, weakened the EU bureaucracy’s ability to impose cuts.
A big country had voted to break from the EU. Implementing harsher cuts might force others out as well.
The point is not to crow about how we were right. It is to insist there is a powerful socialist case against the EU. And that we must not give an inch to those on the anti-Corbyn Labour right who want to regroup around the EU’s pro-bosses single market.
In fact the Leave vote means a Corbyn government’s reforms will not be constrained or challenged by the EU.
The Lib Dems want to revive by leading a pro-EU coalition. They should be repulsed.
As we said on the morning after the vote, “We recognise that a substantial section of those who voted Remain did so because they felt it was the best way to push back the racism of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.
“We didn’t agree, but it’s crucial that everyone on the left unites to bring down the Tories and to fight racism.”
That’s even more true today. The line of division must not be whether you voted Leave or Remain but whether you now back Corbyn against the right, whether you are for or against cuts, whether you are ready to struggle against racism and Islamophobia.
We need to unite against austerity, defend and extend freedom of movement and fight for socialist internationalism. And we should push for a Brexit that is in the interests of the working class.
This should include demands such as:
Defend and extend the rights of migrants and refugees. Full and indefinite rights guaranteed now for all EU nationals.
Let in all refugees, yes to freedom of movement for workers, stop scapegoating.
No reductions in workplace, social or equality rights. Guarantee continued funding for all social projects funded by EU money.
End zero hours contracts. Scrap all anti-union laws. £10 an hour minimum wage without age restrictions now.
No to the single market with its restrictions on nationalisation and no to any return of the TTIP deal or any other that favours the multinationals.
Fully fund the NHS and stop all privatisation, cuts and closures. Build 1 million new council homes and upgrade existing stock.Control rents and replace the council tax with a local income tax that hits the rich. Take back privatised industries.
Effective action on climate change, a ban on fracking and an agriculture policy focused on access to good-quality affordable food and environmental protection.
For internationalism and solidarity with workers across the world. Full support for all struggles against austerity and racism.
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