In the months leading up this year’s referendum on the UK’s continued membership of the European Union I observed lots of discussion — mainly on social media — between anarchists who intended on engaging with the ballot box for the first time in a long time, or in some cases, the first time ever. I couldn’t understand why so many people were prepared to break ranks and participate in bourgeois democracy. I was told that “This one is different” and “We need the EU to protect us from the Tories.”
Essentially, every argument I heard for voting in the referendum were the same arguments — albeit re-worded — that I have heard through all of my life for voting for the Labour Party. The idea that the EU is a benevolent bulwark that protects the working class against an unscrupulous right-wing domestic government is at best naive, and at worst, dishonest. The radical left-wing case for Brexit was subsequently smothered by claims that: “A vote to leave is a vote for the Tories” — the same vacuous bullshit that has been used by the zombie left any time someone has dared to look beyond the Labour Party.
Let us be clear what the EU actually is. It is a bosses’ club. It was concieved as a bosses’ club. It was created and expanded as a means for business to operate more effectively and to become a trading block to be able to compete (bully) other trading blocks and countries around the world: ie., If you want to sell coffee, tea etc in the EU, you will do it on our terms or you can forget it.
Any benefit to the working class, such as free movement, is merely a by-product of its primary role, which is to help business function more profitably.
The EU is a government the same as any other. The only real difference is that it is even more unwieldy, wasteful, bureaucratic and less democratic than most European national governments. How the pro-EU left can claim that it is democratic is beyond me. It patently isn’t. They would have you believe that the EU is some kind of worker’s paradise and that everything in the garden is rosy.
Attitudes towards the EU are deeply entrenched and have been developed over decades — not necessarily following party lines. While it was a yes or no choice, people had differing reasons for wanting to stay or to leave. Both sides of the debate told huge lies, and stoked up fears about our futures, but I suspect that most people who voted had already made their minds up before the campaign started. Yes, it is clear that the Leave Campaign’s “The £350 million we send the EU could be spent on the NHS” claim was a huge whopper. That said, the vast majority of people who voted to leave did so on the strength of immigration issues — either outright bigots, or people who have swallowed the right-wing narrative and media distortion.
For anarchists the choice is the same as it has always been. Which set of bosses do you want? There really isn’t any choice. They give you with one hand what they take away with the other. Yes, leaving the EU may help the Tories erode conditions at work etc, but we can fight and win them back. Just as we always have. If there is racism on the rise then we will fight it as we always have done. My politics aren’t about settling for second best. If they were I would join the Labour Party and be happy trying to polish the turd of capitalism.
I didn’t vote in the EU referendum for the same reasons I don’t vote in elections. That said, anything that erodes away bourgeois government and bureacracy — at whatever level — can only be a good thing. Anarchists that smugly tell me that a vote for Brexit is a vote for the Tories should ask themselves why they didn’t vote for Labour in the last general election? Surely by their logic, not voting is a vote for the Tories?
Some may claim that a referendum is different to an election as it brings decision making closer to the people — rather than in the hands of elected representatives (therefore anarchists should vote). However as we have seen since the referendum there are politicians demanding it be ignored, lobbying for a vote in parliament, and even calls for another referendum. So much for giving “choice” to the people.
Like anything, the devil is in the detail, and when the dust settles we may be better off or worse off. Either way, as an anarchist I will keep fighting, just as I always have done.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of Freedom anarchist journal