The recent “Brexit” vote in Britain brings to mind a few things. First, the counter-revolutionary role of state-controlled referendums (‘referenda’ for the language police), something that Proudhon pointed out in 1851 in General Idea of the Revolution, building on his previous seemingly paradoxical statement that “universal suffrage is counter-revolution” (I included excerpts from General Idea in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, and several other of Proudhon’s anarchist writings). Just as universal suffrage is used to legitimate political rule by giving the illusion of popular sovereignty, so do referendums provide an illusion of “direct democracy,” when the ruling classes remain firmly in control (although not always as firmly as they like)
Second, the false dichotomies represented by the choices provided in referendums — in this case the choice between an “independent United Kingdom” and the European Union. Throughout the history of anarchist movements, anarchists have been told they have to choose between one or the other unacceptable alternative, the so-called “lesser evil” (and so we have “derivative anarchist fellow traveller” Noam Chomsky advocating support for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump). Failing to choose is supposed to constitute an abdication of responsibility and to condemn anarchists to powerlessness and irrelevancy. In 1851 in France, the choice was supposed to be between Napoleon III or the Republic; during the Russian Revolution, the choice was supposed to be between the Bolsheviks (Marxist Leninists) or the counter-revolution; during the two World Wars, in Europe the choice was supposed to be between the “Allies” or Germany/the Nazis; during the Spanish Revolution, the choice was supposed to be between Fascism or the Republic, or between military victory or social revolution; during the Cold War, the choice was supposed to be between US or Soviet imperialism, inspiring Marie Louise Berneri to coin the phrase, “Neither East Nor West” (see Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). In response to the Brexit vote, I would like to put forward a variation of that theme: Neither the EU Nor the UK.
Third, if anarchists reject this latest false dilemma, what alternatives can they present? Besides the obvious (possibly long term) ones, like social revolution, an anarchist society without hierarchy and domination, freedom and equality, and so forth? As a contribution to that debate, I present Andrew Flood’s 10 point guide for post Brexit resistance (from the Workers Solidarity Movement website). Andrew has also presented an excellent analysis of the Brexit vote results.
10 point guide for post Brexit resistance as racist right wins EU referendum
- The Brexit vote for the UK to leave the European Union demonstrates that even weak parliamentary democracy is incompatible with escalating neoliberal inequality. In the UK as elsewhere a tiny segment of the population have taken a larger and larger share of total wealth in the last decades. Particularly under austerity almost everyone else has seen their share of the wealth they produce decline massively.
- The Remain campaign was headed up by the political class of the neoliberal establishment and backed by model neo liberal corporations like Ryanair. But because the anger against rising inequality was successfully diverted through scapegoating already marginalized people, in particular migrants, the Leave campaign was also led by wealthy elitist bigots whose variant of neoliberalism looks to the former colonies and the US rather than Europe.
- The markets are now punishing the electorate with capital flight. But the racist colonialist nature of the Leave campaign means that rather than capitalism being blamed migrants will again be scapegoated. The impact of continued inequality – on white citizen workers – will be blamed on attacks on migrants not being as cruel and ruthless as ‘required’.
- The alternative to fight for isn’t yet another referendum but the abolition of a global order built on inequality & market dictatorship.
- In the immediate future, the defense of migrants, including those yet to come, is fundamental to opposing the swing to the right post-Brexit.
- If the left swings towards a simple economist stance post-Brexit then the racist colonialist nature of that vote will be solidified We must argue on the more apparently difficult grounds of global class solidarity and not on the treacherous path of the narrow self interest of white citizen workers which can only serve a reactionary English nationalism steeped in racism and colonialism.
- The fallout from the Leave vote will not just be limited within the borders of the UK will see a but huge boost for racist colonialist movements across EU. The leaders of those movements, like Marine Le Pen have already greeted the Leave vote with joy.
- It’s vital to understand this cannot be combatted with liberal platitudes because it is a consequence of the rising inequality economic liberalism has created. We are facing either a transformation to radical direct democracy that will create economic equality or a turn to the authoritarian politics of control needed to enforce sharp divisions in wealth.
- Things look grim but then they were already grim as we face into climate change and automation under capitalism. The rise of the far right and colonialist racism is not a natural phenomenon but a consequence of a system in a crisis that is a fundamental product of its own functioning.
- We need to take our world back from the patriarchal white supremacist capitalist elite that dominates the planet and dominated both sides of the EU referendum. The transformation we need if we are not to face escalating poverty, war and climate destruction is a total one that eliminates the state and capitalism to create libertarian communism.