The Left faces a popular uprising called “Brexit”

Tuesday 26 July 2016   |   Christophe Ventura
Lecture .

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The final chapter of a story is being written with Brexit. It is the story of the EU as symbolic incarnation of Europe. Whatever the outcome of the impending negotiations between the EU and the British government, the political involution called Brexit puts an end to the Europe built by the founding fathers. It also delivers a painful message: the integration of societies in the Old Continent through the primacy of markets, economics, currency and geopolitical servitude to the United States will guarantee neither peace nor prosperity to these societies. And it won’t set them on the path to their union either [1].

Of course Brexit must be evaluated in the particular historical, political and geopolitical context of the United Kingdom (its ancestral relationship to Europe). But it must also be understood for its deeply systemic nature, beyond its own geographic boundaries. The British voted all at once against EU policies (including perceived immigration and enlargement policies – or absence thereof), against its institutions, its treaties, its governments, its Establishment, and against the Establishment of every European country taken separately.

Therefore, Brexit is first and foremost synonym of popular uprising, through the ballot paper, against a system embodied by the EU to the utmost. That system has been acclaimed by all the political, economic, media and cultural figureheads of the discredited and autistic elite in the European nations. It is a system of social decay, of dispossession and democratic bullying, of tyranny by the powerful and by the economy, of hyper-competition between all, of fear of the future for oneself and for one’s children.

The vote of the British people concentrates the blazing and negative power of a popular anger which hasn’t been taken into account by the « Pespi/Coke » political classes – the centre-left and centre-right governing parties. In times of acute social and economic crisis, their ordoliberal and austerity choices undermine the states whose resource available for welfare systems and solidarity continue to reduce. In doing so, those indecent oligarchies, with their prominent members shamelessly transiting between cabinet briefs and fraudulent investment banks [2], throw many sectors of the population into the arms of the far-right, making the immigrant scapegoat for their continued impoverishment.

Raw, rebellious, violent and, in a word, pure uprisings such as Brexit happen while the dominated populations are abandoned to the tyranny of globalized lords, blind to alternative perspectives to their condition.

And this is unfortunately where the problem starts for the left. It remains weak in all European countries – or insufficiently powerful to access to state power and/or gain the cultural and political hegemony in society. Its credibility is reduced after the failure of the Tsipras experience which, only a year ago, showered the hopes raised by the Greek referendum against austerity. It is therefore unable to give any credibility whatsoever to its fanciful discourse of democratic, social and ecological rebuilding of the European Union.

It is fanciful indeed because this legal and political system is designed to produce neoliberalism and mass-scale austerity, and to organize the hierarchy of the European capitalist inter-state balance of power around the dominant German centre. Therefore, you cannot ask for such a system to promote and direct a Copernican shift towards new models of solidary integrations.

If such a model materialised subsequently to a major political confrontation and after rifts within community and national elites, it would cause the clinical death of the EU. Ultimately, the EU couldn’t survive, in its institutional architecture and geographic reach, to its reform and democratisation [3]. From this point of view, and whatever happens in the process, changing the EU means ultimately exiting its system. This perspective concerns not only those who want to exit from neoliberal and austeritarian EU, but also those, on the contrary, who would like to preserve its principles and function in another entity free from the recalcitrants

In these circumstances, is the left better equipped to make another strategy out of the EU viable? Would it be possible for a left exit, in one or many countries, to amplify the European crisis in an accepted confrontation so to force the redefinition of the continental project? Today, and for the mid-term, the answer is no. The weakness of left forces and their impossible synchronisation in Europe, let alone in each country, make such a scenario impossible to believe. Especially since this scenario was not chosen by the British left during the June 23rd referendum.

It must be recognised that the left does not yet have the means to resolve the contradictions of this historical situation and that the hegemony of the EU exit belongs to the camp of reactionary and xenophobic forces. The latter’s project has the merit of clarity. Leaving, it implies, will return full autonomy to the national employers, against their domineering German counterpart. It will achieve new leeway at the national level within an exacerbated international competition. And it will increase the exploitation of domestic workers by the national employers in the context of a disciplined society held by a strong state and party.

Yet, even in this context, "Lexit" is the direction that must be pursued in order to usher in a future for the left [4]. It must be done while including a proposal to define another (renamed) European association whose policy remits will stand between advanced inter-state cooperation and integration out of solidarity, under democratic control [5]. The left needs to develop this proposal across Europe (it is now under construction yet not consensual). It must do so by asserting, unlike the far right, that an internationalist exit project is imperative and that it is a question of breaking the European system so as to return dignity, independence and power of involvement to the people, also against « national » exploitation.

It must do so all the more that, contrary to what the media and Eurocrats purport in their bid to alarm and regroup, the EU operational structure is not going to simply disintegrate. Nor will it reform itself. Instead it will continue to operate in its zombie form and fulfil its functions (administering the interests of financial markets and free trade). The interest of the European ruling classes is not the disintegration of their area and tool, be it economically, commercially or geopolitically. Although partly competing, all these oligarchies need the EU, its single market and its rules as they are.

Of course, a debate is sharpening between oligarchs. However, it does not concern the reconsideration of their common framework (the British oligarchy voted ’yes’ to the EU) but only the level of adjustment they can impose on their societies in response to the ordoliberal requirements of the German government and its allies. The position of the leading European power is indeed clarifying as we go through each crisis. If countries no longer follow suit and refuse extra control of their budgets and economies, they will remain in the EU but as second-class members, leaving the ordoliberal core to deepen its integration. They will otherwise have the right to leave. From Berlin, those who want to benefit from the German economic value chain must accept its takeover and meet its fiscal austerity and discipline criteria. The formal departure of the United Kingdom risks reinforcing the centralization of European power in Berlin at the expense of precarious balances from which Paris believes it still benefits.

In doing so, the most powerful European leaders, amongst Germany’s allies and those who dare not contravene it, will conclude, similarly to what they did during the "Greek crisis, that the current situation calls for the reinforcement of the stability and irreversibility of the European system as it is.

In a way, a new tune is being composed in the corridors of European power. Its lyrics contain two main messages: "the EU doesn’t work because there is not enough respect for EU rules" and "the EU, love it or leave it". Faced with systemic risks, the European system is therefore going to radicalise itself so as to hold on. And it is also going to organize so to keep the people ever further away from decision-making.

Thus, European leaders are preparing to take us towards more authoritarian federalism. That federalism will, in turn, nourish and inflate the anger of peoples, and strengthen the far right.

Can the left still say: "I love the European Union, but I want to change it" or "I could love the European Union if it was different"? No. The left must forget its fancies and find its truth again. It must assert that European leaders are no longer credible to offer new solutions that increasingly resemble the old. It must demand a moratorium on the EU, its decisions in economic and social affairs, and relating to the negotiations of international treaties. Furthermore, it must assert that any headlong rush to extend federalism will inexorably strengthen the far right.

The left must support the "Lexit" option – even if not immediately operational – as a blueprint for new European alliances, and it must raise the issue of a new founding text – beyond the framework of the current EU treaties – between countries wishing to share a destiny outside the neoliberal dogma. From that perspective, it should promote a method to bring about a flexible Europe of voluntary cooperation between countries. Such a configuration would promote policies derogating from market logic and would be open to associations with other countries that have no shared geographical borders.

In order to achieve wider objectives pertaining democracy, social justice, the environment and independence, this new European association will be established chiefly by the overhaul of the subsidiarity principle, and that of the system of hierarchy of norms, and by the implementation of transfer of sovereignty (notably on some cross-cutting issues such as climate, energy, etc.), always in a controllable and, where needed, revocable way.

Traduction : Sylvain Savier

Edition : Mémoire des luttes

[1Bernard Cassen, « Après le Brexit, la nécessité d’une pause », Mémoire des luttes, july 2016.

[2José Manuel Barroso for example.

[3Christophe Ventura, « L’Union européenne ne survivrait pas à sa démocratisation », Mémoire des luttes, february 2016.

[4Look at the French “Chapitre 2” Initiative :

[5Look at the Lexit Network Initiative :

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