14 observations on Brexit and Lexit in the UK EU membership referendum

14 observations on Brexit and Lexit in the UK EU membership referendum

Analysis of the UK European Union referendum, and the "left exit" campaigns from the anarchist Workers Solidarity Movement in Ireland.


1. Anarchists are generally hostile to decision making mechanisms that demand people put their faith in others to make decisions on their behalf without mandate or recall. We favour systems of direct democracy where the people either discuss and vote on an issue directly, or delegate other people to meet up for such discussions but these delegates are both mandated and recallable.

2. However, we insist that even a perfect democracy has no right to oppress a minority. There can be no democratic mandate for racism, sexism or homophobia.

3. Anarchists generally advocate abstaining from the decision making mechanisms allowed for by the boss class as for the most part these, in order to preserve the power of that class, are built around systems of indirect decision making. From parliaments to local councils the general rule is that lawmakers cannot be mandated and they can not be recalled.

4. A referendum can be an exception to this because referendums may allow the people to directly make a decision, if only at the level of selection between the choices offered. However it's not unusual for the choices offered to be no real choice at all.


5. The UK referendum on continued EU membership is one where little real choice is actually on offer. Crudely the choice could be said to be one between a UK under the control of the British bosses and a UK under the control of British bosses with some oversight by EU bosses. The parts of the left that are invested in the issue on both sides have advanced various arguments as to why one or the other of those setups might result in more favourable legislation for workers in the UK with citizenship. This isn’t a gamble we find at all useful and on that level we would simply abstain or spoil our votes in the referendum.

6. The referendum does not just effect the UK and UK left but also the left in Ireland, including southern Ireland. In particular the somewhat successful ‘good cop, bad cop’ routine of recent governments has led some on the left to believe that austerity was largely a result of the EU imposing its will through the Trokia. This is despite the fact the Trokia role started in November 2010 while austerity began started with the 2007/8 one. In that context it is not surprising that the years of the crisis have seen a strengthening and expansion of anti-EU sentiment in the left and water charge movements in the south.

7. We think this is built on the mistaken premise that austerity would somehow have been kinder if it was implemented by the southern establishment without EU involvement. But leaving that aside, the point to be made is that because of our very different but intertwined histories a UK departure from the EU would have very different implications than a southern Ireland departure. Brexit as advocated would be a turn back towards the politics & economics of the British Empire both in terms of the commonwealth and the post colonial relationship the south had with Britain. This is not an attractive proposition, indeed were the south to Exit with the UK the danger would be that the economy would be stripped back down to a subservient cheap food producer for the cities of the UK.

8. This also sets aside the significant cost for people living in Ireland who do not have citizenship of either the republic or UK. This population, which is now a sizeable section of the working class here, including some of the most marginalised sectors, may lose easy access to the UK and with that lose access to travelling for abortions there. Asylum seekers and people without papers are already in that situation with horrific results as some have been forced to carry through unwanted or unviable pregnancies.

9. Returning to the UK what is very obvious from then Brexit campaign is that in the current context an exit would be on a right wing, racist basis. The core idea that has dominated the campaign has been ‘taking the country back’ and the need for even stricter border controls that those the EU already imposes. Controls that have killed 10,000 people since 2014. In the situation were even parts of the far left have already capitulated to these sentiments, repeating them with a left gloss, it is clear that a post Exit UK government would at the very least turn towards a migration system designed to end free movement within the EU and replace it with a boss friendly points system that favours the white former colonies even more so than is currently the case.

10. This has already been signalled in the determination of who gets to vote in the referendum and who does not. Migrants to the UK, who are the ones likely to suffer the consequences of Brexit are excluded from the vote. Except for those from Ireland and the commonwealth, i.e. those least likely to be effected are the only migrants with a vote. As if to underline the point, most of the very large population of people with British citizenship who have migrated to other countries will also get to vote, providing they have been registered in the UK at some point in the last 15 years.

11. The run up to the referendum and the referendum campaign itself has right wing nationalist and racist positions within the population and political parties. In the preceding week this reached the extreme of the fascist assassination of Jo Cox and, that same day, the unveiling of an official leave campaign poster that reflects the sort of racist hate imagery used by the Nazis in the 1930s. But these are just the extremes of a widespread shift to the right demonstrated by Economist polling that shows for the first time the vast majority of voter segments identify Immigration as the most important issue.

12. The referendum opened with sections of the far left deciding to also support an Exit position, the so called Lexit (for Left-Exit). This appears to have been an electoral opportunist calculation that an Exit would damage the government, perhaps forcing an election and that in the election ‘the Party’ might make some minor gains. This is dressed up for public consumption in welfare state nostalgia and NHS protection as if the reality was anything other than the welfare state has been dismantled not by the EU but by successive domestic governments. And that the NHS is likewise targeted not by the EU but by the Tories. Those leading the mainstream Exit campaign are the same people who have argued against minimum wages and limiting working time. If Lexit was originally foolish opportunism choosing to continue to advocate a Lexit vote now that the reality of the campaign is clear is criminal stupidity. We do hope the stakes are not so high but it is worth recalling that this sort of foolishness is not new, in the early 1930s the German Communist Party coined "After Hitler, our turn!".


13. The EU is properly understood as part of the modern state rather than some separate entity above it. The state has layers of decision making bodies to make rules to impose on us, each layer with its own characteristic. And layers of court bodies to impose those rules with finally layers of armed personnel to impose them. Demands for reform that simply amount to shifting powers from one layer to another change nothing fundamental – indeed post EU Britain would not eliminate international treaties but simply have them at another level.

14. For the left in Ireland, a tiny country on the margins of Europe, there is no road to freedom that does not involve a common struggle with workers across Europe and the planet. Retreating into nationalist isolation under the likes of Denis O’Brien is no alternative. For the left in the UK a return to the nationalist colonialism of Empire is even less of a way forward. The path forward will involve the demolition of the EU but not on a nationalist country by country basis. That demolition can only be progressive if it’s the work of the working masses of the European continent, regardless of their citizenship, and hand in hand with those on the open prison that is the European periphery.

About this text

Work on this text began too late for us to agree it by simple majority vote. It failed to reach the needed supermajority for it to be published as WSM policy because a minority felt that the language used in relation to Lexit supporters was too harsh. So it's published here as an opinion piece that is indicative of where our views on the questions lie.

Taken from http://www.wsm.ie/c/anarchist-observations-brexit-lexit-uk-eu-referendum


Jun 24 2016 19:14

I think you are being too optimistic in hoping for a non-nationalistic breakup of the EU. If the EU breaks up in the near future, it will likely be because of far right, anti-immigrant forces.

Jun 25 2016 15:46
blackout87 wrote:
I think you are being too optimistic in hoping for a non-nationalistic breakup of the EU. If the EU breaks up in the near future, it will likely be because of far right, anti-immigrant forces.

The article doesn't say it thinks that is likely, just the only way a breakup would be "progressive", which I broadly agree with.

Jun 25 2016 21:00
Jun 27 2016 15:59

Latest piece looking at the C2DE working class segment of the Brexit vote, the reactionary element to that and how worried should we be


Jul 8 2016 10:30

"EU is properly understood as the modern state rather than some separate entity above it..." I wonder how you have come up with this ridiculous and un-"properly understood" conclusion. EU is a separate entity above its member states. Just read basic materials on EU and you will be "properly understood" that EU laws have primacy over those of member states. And the European Court of Justice considers itself to be a final authority on EU laws against contrary claims by national courts of EU member states. Unless UK Parliament at Westminster annuls a law stipulating that EU laws automatically take effect in the UK, Brexit can't be a reality. This is why Brexit opponents have file a law suit claiming illegality of Brexit vote victory!!! Are WSM members going to be bureaucratic-anarchists by championing non-bureaucratic nature of the EU? If so, it makes sense to prolong our lives as long as possible. We witness amazing things never seen before and never dreamt of!!!!

Jul 8 2016 10:45

Local councils are a layer of the state, the House of Commons is a layer of the state, the House of Lords is a layer of the state, the monarchy is layer of the state. When the UK is in the EU the EU is another of those layers. All the layers have varying degrees of bureaucracy and 'democracy' associated with them (with the monarchy 100% of the first, 0% of the second). And there are conflicts between them on a regular basis. Westminster abolishing the GLC or the reduction in relative power of the House of Lords more recently. Thats a better way of understandings the role the EU plays in our lives and the actual outcome of the power transfer that Brexit represents.

Jul 9 2016 07:03

Then do you agree that EU is a layer or structure of bureaucracy above that of EU member states? If so, why are you ho-hum about undermining this overbearing entity or layer or whatever? Isn't fewer layers of bureaucracy better than more of them, until we get rid of all these layers by a revolution of direct democracy by common people? If not so, do you consider EU as a bit more powerful regional trade bloc compared to those like NAFTA or MERCOSUR? If this is your line of thinking, it makes sense not to give any or much attention to the Brexit because this is a matter of choosing one trade policy or another on the part of national rulers of EU member states, which might not have much to do with the interests of ordinary working people of Europe. The problem of this line of thinking is that you ignore what EU institutions have done over the years to drive down living conditions of people in Europe. Introduction of Euro caused price hikes, provoking bitter joke about "Teuro", which in German roughly means "expensive Euro". Most recently, ECB/EU Commission/IMF forced savage public spending cuts in Greece, making life much harder for Greeks.