by Jade Saab
(Editor’s note: unless otherwise stated, all content — including this one — do not reflect the official position of the IWW. That being said, we’d love to hear from you! Email firstname.lastname@example.org )
The protracted political battle of Brexit has given birth to a myriad of discussions that tie directly to it such as the economic impact of leaving the EU, the rise of xenophobic rhetoric, and Scottish independence. Whichever one of these conversations you’ve been involved in, it was probably discussed through the lens of liberal economics or liberal notions of agency and statehood. Left out of this conversation has been the role of workers themselves.
To EU or not to EU
The Brexit debate had the interesting effect of cutting deep into the ‘radical left’ as well as ‘society’ at large. Those advocating for a Leftist case for Brexit, Lexiters, were hell-bent on pointing out the fact that the EU exists under capitalism and is part of the same neo-liberal ideology that operates across the globe. Whatever benefits we enjoyed being an EU member state came at the price of perpetuating the exploitation found within it. Free-trade and expansionism to secure markets for goods produced in the ‘developed’ parts of the Union, and freedom of movement used to secure the labour needed to produce these goods.
Lexiters were right in pointing these things out, but they failed to locate their analysis in the political realities of today. For all its exploitative qualities, it was EU membership that was responsible for the legislation that guaranteed standards of living for workers that were absent before it. Without the EU and a strong radical labour and political movement, the government is now free to rid itself of the petulant laws that, for marketers, was holding the UK back from its true economic potential. There is no doubt that this will come at the cost of workers who are already, around the nation, fighting against increased casualisation, falling wages, and poorer access to goods and services.
Many who wanted to remain in the EU point to these losses and position the political divide between ‘progressive’ politics represented by the EU and the reactionary and racist politics of the Conservatives. They tell us that the EU is more than an economic project, it’s one of peace and humanity, look at all the other legislations they have put in place from protecting our data to Human Rights conventions. Students have studied in other European states, under the Erasmus scheme. Tourists and workers have benefitted from medical treatment in other European states under the E111 and EHIC programmes. We’ve had the freedom to travel, live, work, and vote throughout the EU.
Any fantasies of the EU being a paradise of progressive and civil politics should have melted away as soon as it became clear that the EU had no interest in countering the rise of ‘populist’ reaction in Eastern Europe, showed its willingness to participate in modern-day slavery as a way to stem the so-called ‘refugee crisis’, and continues to play an active part in NATO and its involvement in destabilising wars.
There is no ‘Good Liberalism’
In Scotland, Brexit has become rocket fuel for the independence debate. There is no doubt that Scotland being forced out of the EU against its will is preposterous, and self-determination is a worthy cause for any population. But will Scottish independence give us that self-determination? Does putting our trust in a state that can, just like the UK parliament, make future decisions based on what it deems to be the ‘common good’ or for the purpose of ‘economic growth’ give us self-determination?
An independent Scottish state may (or will) be more democratic than current Westminster rule, but any state established on the logic of private property will continue to ignore the needs of workers for the purpose of capital and unfettered growth as it continues to maintain its existence in a competitive global world.
The case for Scottish independence is then built on the same misleading lines that pit a ‘progressive’ EU (and SNP) against a ‘reactionary’ Conservative party and is built on what Joseph Kay calls “Liberal-left mythology” which presents the welfare state as “a gift from munificent politicians from a better age.” In this mythology, the welfare state is looked back on as “the Golden Age is now being ruined by nasty ideological Tories, and we need some good decent politicians to set things right.”. It is through this logic that idiotic terms like ‘progressive nationalism’ find wings.
But it is not benevolent politicians who gave us the welfare state or our rights. The term ‘Rights’ itself implies that there is some sort of authority that needs to bestow things on us. The advantages of the welfare state — the advantages of EU membership — these are part of the concessions made by the ruling class to mass workers movements that demanded them through economic strikes and other forms of direct action. They were not ‘granted’ they were earned through hard-fought battles in which the state played a suppressive role. It is only now that labour movements have been destroyed through a steady diet of neoliberalism encouraged by the EU, and the failure of a radical politics, that we now see these ‘rights’ as something given by the patriarchal authority figure of the state and therefore fetishise it.
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common
Neither nationalism (of any form) nor flag fetishism is going to deliver us the self-determination and economic liberation we are looking for. This is not to say that we should not fight for the protection and benefits available through membership in the EU or for greater self-determination through Scottish Independence, but we should not see them as abstracted struggles away from the larger struggle for complete economic self-determination.
The fight should not and cannot be confined within liberal notions of statehood and ‘rights’, nor should left opposition to the EU or the State be positioned based on, what Lea Ypi describes as, “attempts to revive civic republicanism through projects of socialism (or social democracy) in one country” which seek to build a “radical democratic project that is open and inclusive, that aspires to overcome divisions of gender, race, and class, and where domestic equality matters as much as international solidarity.”
Our fight should be seen as a continuous struggle for concessions not just from the state but from global capital itself until we can rid ourselves of state and supranational states based on capitalist logic altogether. It should be seen as a fight against an entire class that will hold on to a logic of private property and markets even if this goes against the interest of the people it claims to govern. Most importantly, our fight cannot be in one nation, it cannot be limited to borders manically held onto by the state. Our fight needs to realize that the state itself is a function of capitalism and that “the working class has no nation”. It is not enough for us to get rid of ‘internal borders’ as the EU has done but we must rid ourselves of borders altogether.
The only way we can achieve these concessions is by organizing ourselves as the international working class and realizing that the battlefield on which we fight for our autonomy and self-determination extends from fighting against the state to fighting against exploitative conditions in our workplaces and that this fight is inclusive on all of these fronts.