For a long time, I have been a strong supporter of a so called ‘#Lexit’ from the EU, rejecting both the capitalist stance of Cameron, and the mainstream xenophobic leave campaigns. Nearly all discourse surrounding a Left Exit of the EU is dominated by Liberal Remainers, who ignore the genuine voices of the working class which is tired of decreasing living standards and austerity measures across Europe.
I’m not here to convince you to vote Leave. I understand the argument on both sides, however there is a reality that we need to confront. On Friday morning, there’s a strong chance we will wake up to the news that Britain has voted to leave the EU.
The left-exit of the EU has been criticised strongly by the Remain camp, for propping up those on the right who have been telling us to leave. Many of the accusations of #Lexit are ad hominem attacks on who we’ve supposedly chosen as allies. Apparently arguing a progressive case to leave the EU is basically standing hand in hand with racists and fascists. If so, then voting to Remain is the same as holding hands with many people who are also racists, but additionally all the major institutions of global capital and almost the entire British Establishment.
Left leave may not be an option on the ballot paper, but neither is a left-wing remain.
If arguing a progressive case for a Brexit is the same as jumping into bed with Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, then supporting Another Europe is Possible is having a one-night drunken fling with Cameron, only to wake up and find yourself in bed with the IMF, the Bank of England and NATO. Left leave may not be an option on the ballot paper, but neither is a left-wing remain. The Remain vote is driven by neoliberal market orientated arguments. The fact that the likely strongest Remain constituency is the City of London is no coincidence.
Having grown up in a working class household, I’m growing increasingly frustrated with middle class liberals monopolising this debate. Remain is the only logical answer, anyone who votes Leave is ignorant and uneducated, and probably a racist too, they tell us. The referendum is unique in that is has given the working class access to have their grievances discussed, something that doesn’t happen often in the political sphere. The working class desire to leave is not purely driven by fears over immigration. It is driven by fears over the status quo.
The official Vote Leave campaign has undeniably fuelled racist rhetoric on immigration. My issue is with the media portrayal that this is the only thing the working class communities are concerned with. In fact, if you actually talk to working class people, the vote has opened up a plethora of issues. The referendum is not solely being fought over immigration; it is being fought over housing, unemployment, education, welfare and poverty, and it’s a chance for the working class to express dissatisfaction with the status quo.
One working class woman summed up the situation pretty well “I’m sick of being called a racist because I worry about my own mum and my own child”…”I don’t begrudge anyone a roof who needs it but we can’t manage either” The failure of the Left Remain camp has been to brush aside these concerns and to tar anyone who may be feeling a hurt over a decline in social welfare, as a xenophobic, UKIP-loving, far-right racist.
Working class communities up and down the country are deeply and profoundly unhappy with the state the country is in. To them, staying in the EU may have its benefits, but in reality those benefits are not being felt. People are starving, being kicked out of their homes, benefits are being stripped. The distrust of politicians lies deep in the bones of the British working classes, and no number of speeches by party leaders on either side will fix that.
We will not get another chance like this in our lifetime to shake the status quo, to shock the Establishment so far that the cracks are finally revealed. The choice I present to you is this: we either stay inside of the EU and suffer further abuses at the hands of the neoliberal doctrine, or we confront the realities of a Leave vote, and start building a mass movement and form a real alternative.
After all, we thought life for the Labour left was over following Ed Miliband’s defeat in 2015. What happened afterwards, was a grassroots uprising in support of Jeremy Corbyn and a reinvigoration of politics by young people. We can create the same reaction post-Brexit. We can’t roll over and accept that the far-right have won, to lay down and surrender our principles in the face of adversity because that is not what we do.
A Brexit is the only situation which would give impetus to this kind of mass mobilisation and a backlash against xenophobia.
If we leave the European Union, the racist rhetoric pedalled by Johnson and Co. will intensify. It will give them the incentive to continue to scaremonger and use fear tactics to drum up anti-immigration panic. But there’s a reason to be optimistic. Building a strong, left-wing critique of the EU and creating a genuine alternative is the task we are faced with. A Brexit is the only situation which would give impetus to this kind of mass mobilisation and a backlash against xenophobia.
Unless we are willing to confront the crisis as a strong socialist movement, then we will never make a difference. If we vote to leave the EU, the Conservative Party will be jolted, with the significant chance of a General Election being called. We will have a unique opportunity to bolster the socialist movement and a genuine opportunity to instate a Corbyn led government.
If we vote to stay in, we will continue to fantasise about a democratically elected, pro-worker EU, with no more concrete plans on how to get there. Nothing will change, and the working class will become even more disenfranchised from a left that appears more concerned with propping up a broken system than supporting the people they supposedly represent, and recognising that for millions of working class people the status quo is no longer an option.
I believe in a progressive Europe. I believe in a progressive world. I believe in a progressive alternative to austerity capitalism and rampant neoliberal inequality. I believe that we build profound worldwide solidarity under the banner of social justice, equality and worker’s rights. I do not believe that any of these things can be achieved by staying in an unreformable and undemocratic system of bureaucratic liberalism. The working class have a unique insight; they know that staying in the EU is going to reinforce the status quo.
That’s why I’m voting Leave. And even if you’re not; the task of building that kind of movement is a task for us all.
Header image via leftleave.org