Editorial from the July 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
So, contrary to what Cameron banked on and what Big Business wanted, Britain is to leave the EU. The Tory leaders of the Brexit campaign, experienced vote-catching politicians that they are, were able to convince enough workers, including many of the worst off, to carry the day.
Whether many of their voters believed their extravagant promises of a rosy future is another matter. Many would have been registering a protest vote against what global capitalism was doing to them. A vote for Remain would have been a vote for this to remain. Which, offered the chance to register an opinion, they could hardly have been expected to endorse. But If they really believed that the EU was responsible for their lot, they misidentified the culprit. As we said in our manifesto for the referendum, ‘The problem is not the EU … it’s capitalism’. As capitalism will continue to exist after Britain withdraws so too will the situation they protested against.
While the promises of the Brexiters – more money for the NHS, a reduction in VAT, higher wages for the unskilled – were the usual empty promises that politicians trade in, the dire predictions of the Remain camp were exaggerations designed to scare people into voting for them. It didn’t work but nothing much will change. Big Business will be able to live with Brexit and adapt to it. They will want continued free access to the single tariff-free European market with common standards and will expect the government to negotiate this.
One of Brexit’s more attractive slogans – in fact, minus the ‘of our borders’, its only attractive one – was ‘take back control’, with its suggestion that people should be in a position to control their destiny; a tempting appeal to people unable to control what global capitalism has done and is doing to them.
While, after Brexit, the British Parliament will regain its power to enact what laws it wants, this will prove to be more nominal than real. Governments cannot control the way the profit system works. It’s the other way round. Governments have to adapt their policies to fit in with the economic laws of capitalism which dictate that making profits has to take priority over meeting people’s needs. Voters, parliaments and governments may propose, but capitalism disposes.
Brexit won’t change this. It was the case before Britain joined the EU in 1973 and will be the same after Britain leaves in 2019. Those who were led to think that Brexit will allow them to control their destiny have been cruelly deceived.
Socialists have always wanted working people to ‘take control’ of their collective destiny. That’s what socialism is all about. This is not possible under capitalism because it is a system governed by uncontrollable economic laws which impose themselves on people whatever they want or decide. The only way to take control (‘back’ is out of place since the majority class of wage and salary workers has never had any control) is to take control of the places where we work and where wealth is produced and run them for the benefit of all.