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Practical Lesson #5: How to do a Brexit

I am writing this the day after Theresa May postponed the Commons vote on the proposed Brexit deal to leave the European Union.


Theresa May – Caricature Wikimedia Commons

Steve Latham


Anything I write will be rendered out-of-date by the time this column is published at the weekend, overtaken by the rapid turn of events.

As former Labour Prime minister, Harold Wilson, once said, “A week is a long time in politics”. So, my ruminations can only reflect our immediate turmoil.

However, beyond the political details, there are wider ramifications, of this self-inflicted wound on the British body politic.

For we did not have to go this way. Although the Brexit referendum decision was influenced by lies from the Brexit side, and by Russian electoral cyber interference, we chose it.

And politicians have continued to perpetuate it, refusing to undo the decision, for fear of electoral fury from the voters at what they would certainly see as betrayal.

The subsequent political debacle, however, has ably demonstrated the incompetence of our political class.

It has also proved the inadequacy of those antiquated vulgar Marxist theories about the base and superstructure.

Far from the economic base determining the political superstructure, Brexit has shown that the political can shape the economic.

Our economic prospects are assuredly far worse under any possible Brexit deal than they would be within the EU. This is despite worthy arguments from left-wing economists, like Larry Elliott of The Guardian, that the EU is a club for capitalists, not the ordinary person.

The vote also illustrates that radical conspiracy theorists are wrong to think the world is firmly under the control of the international capitalist class.

Such a class certainly exists, reflecting the global hegemony of finance. But they do not always have it their own way.

Rather than a ‘conspiracy theory of history’, we have a ‘cockup theory’, whereby contingency and chance determine the conjuncture.

Surely David Cameron’s decision to submit the EU issue to a popular vote, with all the uncertainty it contained, was a major miscalculation, which has landed us in this mess.

Not that the oppressed inevitably gain the benefit from capitalist mistakes. Our problems are the result of internal disagreements, what Marxists call ‘contradictions’, with the ruling class themselves.

This is the nature of capitalism as a system, that it is functionally dysfunctional. That is, the apparent inefficiencies actually serve its perpetuation.

The decision to leave the EU will weaken Britain’s position as a significant centre of international finance capital, which will inevitably prefer to relocate within strongly interlinked global hubs.

Although some sections of the national bourgeoisie may benefit, the short-term, emotional, predilections of patriotism will trump the longterm interests and prosperity of the country.

The capitalist class does not speak with a unified voice, and there is no guarantee that any fraction of it will automatically act in its own best interests.

Human cupidity, perversity and stupidity know no bounds, and are frequently the real motor for the historical process, which is far from Hegel’s intelligent, rational, progress toward freedom.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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