A Portuguese Marxist examines the bizarre Brexit ‘circus’

Raposo is a Portuguese Marxist and analyst. This article was published Oct. 23 on the website jornammudardevida.info. Translation by John Catalinotto.

Party politics in Britain, power struggles between Britain and the European Union, and U.S. pressure from the outside aiming to break up and weaken the EU have all contributed to turning Brexit into a circus.  But to stop the analysis there would restrict it to looking at the surface of the matter and reverse cause and effect.

There is a real difficulty in divorcing Britain from the EU without great losses to both sides. Why? Because European capital has merged to such an extent over the last 50-60 years that separating the British economy from the rest of the EU economy leaves a huge hole in the network interconnecting all European capital. Globalization has actually taken place in Europe, and to reverse it is an impossible task. That is the root of the problem that has blocked Brexit.

British big business does not want Brexit, nor does any other big international capitalist enterprise operating in Britain — many of them are already trying to withdraw from the island when faced with the prospect of a break. For obvious reasons the majority of the big bourgeoisie of Britain, therefore, do not want Brexit. This ruling-class attitude is what drives the resistance within the House of Commons, which is called upon to approve the exit agreements. And considering the statements made immediately after the 2016 referendum in the House of Lords, where the cream of the dominant aristocracy-bourgeoisie sits, the bourgeois opposition is even clearer.

Brexit, in fact, expresses the illusion, the utopia, of the petty bourgeoisie and of many impoverished British workers. These sectors think they can rid themselves of the strangling domination of internationalized capital — in order to live in peace with “their” national capital — holding the illusion that they can domesticate it, in both the literal and figurative sense.

It is therefore not Germany or France’s evil machinations, nor the British Parliament’s stubbornness, that complicate the Brexit agreement. No, it is the very logic of self-defense for Europeanized capital, merged, without borders, that demands wide room for maneuver and common supranational rules — on top of and at the expense of definitively outdated national interests. Finally, it is the logic of European imperialism which, the more unified it is, the stronger it will feel to compete with the other imperialist powers.

Challenges to revolutionaries

This reality poses new challenges to the revolutionary left and the socialist revolution in Europe, challenges that Brexit’s separatism only fogs. European workers must now face capital and a bourgeoisie with a European dimension, with European means of action, united in a common front against labor. Consequently, the class struggle, with all its special national characteristics, must take place today on an European scale, if it wants to attempt what is crucial: the overthrow of capitalism.

The delay in establishing international links between the mass of workers living in different countries (European and global) is preventing it from meeting the challenge. And this delay is also responsible for the nationalist and fascist deviations that many proletarians get pulled into — because they see no other way, because they do not believe in their own strength to confront a unified capital that builds a common entity against them.

The sympathy that some left-wing forces show for Brexit (in Portugal the Communist Party, for example) suffers from the same illusion that led English voters to want to leave the EU: the naive belief that they could thus be rid of the evils of globalized capital and start dealing with “their” capital and “their” bourgeoisie. This illusion will cost the British dearly because of the sharp drop in living standards, already announced, and the anticipated greater dependence on the USA. It is also expensive, politically speaking, for all European workers who believe in the virtues of a return to the past as Brexit claims to be.