Brexit, democracy, Economics, EU, latest, UK
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How Left Remain Campaigners Sold Out the Working Class: Lesser Evilism in the EU Referendum

by Tom Barker

There are few illusions about the reformability of the EU on the left, even amongst those campaigning for Remain. Paul Mason has stated that “it is impossible for the EU to be a democracy”. The ex-Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has described the “point blank refusal” of Greek creditors to “engage in economic arguments.” He explains, “you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken.” No doubt fuelled by these experiences, Varoufakis has since expressed serious doubts about the prospect of his own campaign succeeding – “It will probably end up in failure like all the best intentions.”

In this respect, they are in harmony with the left opposition, who argue that the prospect of reform will inevitably fail because the EU lacks a democratic structure.

But this has not been the main focus of the debate. Instead, the main issue has been less the objective political qualities of the EU than the fear of those leading the Leave campaign.

Mason states, “I am very unlikely to vote for Brexit on the day because I do not want to hand power to a bunch of crazed right wing conservatives.” Similarly, Varoufakis warns of the growth of fascist forces across the EU, and argues that Brexit “would make a bad thing far, far worse.” Owen Jones describes how a “vote to leave… has more to do with… opposition to immigration” and that he is now campaigning for Remain. Six months earlier he was stating that it is time for the Left to “reclaim the Eurosceptic cause.”

The idea of deserting the Leave vote because of its association with the far right has resulted in some truly spectacular U-turns. (See Jeremy Corbyn for the flip flopper par excellence.)

In their rush to abandon the Leave vote, however, Left Remainers have ironically contributed to the very conditions they rally against. Vacating the Leave argument has, in effect, meant abandoning huge swathes of the working class, who will be voting to leave, to the forces of reaction.

But maybe this is to overstate the case.

Certainly the position of the main Leave campaigns (and Remain, for that matter) have been racist in character, but the one-dimensional ideas put forward by the corporate media are never straightforwardly adopted by the majority of the 50million people voting in the referendum. To suggest otherwise is deeply patronising.

In reality, one of the main reasons so many people will be defying so-called “expert” advice is that the EU referendum has come to be seen as a stick with which to beat the establishment politicians, whether in Brussels or the UK.

People are understandably angry at the lack of principles in politics, fed up with lies and doublespeak of those elected to represent them. This referendum has become a way of passing verdict on the status-quo.

In this respect, Left Remainers have made a huge miscalculation.

By sidling up to the forces of world capitalism –  the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Confederation of British Industry, and bourgeois economists, as well as all the leaders of the pro-austerity parties – the Left Remainers have lined up alongside the enforcers of the oppressive status-quo.

The counter argument to this has been that the Left Leave campaigners have gotten into bed with the far right. Of course, the only thing that socialists have ever shared with the far right is the belief that there needs to be fundamental change in society – and it seems that the majority of the working class now feels the same way. Such accusations only reveal the extent to which Left Remainers have misunderstood this referendum.

Furthermore, the implication that the Remain camp is somehow more “credible” than the Leave groups misrepresents the central role played by capitalist politicians, and their ideologues, in making fascism possible.

Fascism does not emerge in a political vacuum, but breeds on conditions poverty, despair, and disillusionment – conditions which the EU has transparently done nothing to curtail. In fact, in cases such as Greece, forced-immiseration of the working class has been carried out at the EU’s behest. Add to this the capitulation of the Syriza government to EU austerity and it is little wonder that the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn has gained so much support.

This does not mean that we do not unite in broad coalitions to keep fascists from gaining power – although this issue is not presently on the cards in UK – but that we must approach referenda and electoral issues with a program that gets to the root of its causes.

This brings us to another factor driving the grassroots Leave vote: the way that the EU has treated its less wealthy member states, particularly in southern Europe. Although not on the scale of Greece, the consequences of austerity – food banks, declining services, and lowering wages – are faced by the people of Britain on a daily basis. But to see it imposed so brutally across the trading bloc has undoubtedly contributed to feelings of fear, lest we suffer the same, and of solidarity.

Undoubtedly, the question of immigration control has been at the centre of the EU debate. And there are sections of the Leave campaign that are undeniably racist, particularly the official campaign – although contrary to what some Remainers suggest concerns over immigration are not in themselves racist. There are also many overtly racist groups that support Leave.

It does not, however, follow that the majority of those voting Leave are racist or xenophobic… but even if this were the case, much of the responsibility would have to be borne by Eurosceptic Remain campaigners such as Varoufakis, Mason, and Jones for failing to cut across these arguments with a principled Leave campaign; a campaign which points the finger at the real cause of human misery in contemporary society: capitalism.

In lieu of such a mass campaign, the job has been left up to smaller parties like the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) as well as some of the more militant trade unions including the Bakers Union, RMT, NIPSA, and ASLEF.

Such groups have refused to cede control of Euroscepticism to right wingers, and in doing so have refused to write-off millions of working class voters.

Thomas Barkeris an independent journalist and PhD student in Aesthetics and Politics. He can be reached at



  1. reinertorheit says

    John Schoneboom writes (above in the Comments) above seeing us “goose-stepping to Nigel Farage’s tune”. I am certainly no fan of Nigel Garbage or his beer-swilling twaddle, However, up to now, that’s all he’s been – empty twaddle, and a vile poster campaign that shot him magnificently in his own foot.

    Yet on the eve of the Brexit vote, NATO’s very own swivel-eyed goose-stepper, Jens Stoltenberg, made an impassioned plea to Britons to vote Remain – because of the danger that Brexit would cause for European security (meaning, as Norway’s most prominent Son of Odin usually does, the WW3 with Russia that he and his American chums have been rehearsing in Eastern Europe over the past few weeks. In fact, here they are goose-stepping through Poland.

    Distasteful as Mr Farage may be, I’ve yet to see him actually goose-stepping. Yet the pro-EU gang – including not only Mr Stoltenberg, but fellow neocon loonies like Philip Hammond and Nicholas Winterton – are already spending British tax cash on goose-stepping through Europe in tanks.

    I oscillated between a vote for Cameron’s vile policies, and a vote for a POS like Gove – hardly a choice at all, was it? But once NATO declared for Remain, there was no longer a shadow of a doubt in my mind – and my allegiances moved towards anything which opposed the NATO nutters.

    • johnschoneboom says

      Well said. Indeed it seems to me we have fascists on either side, or if that’s too hot a word for anyone, people on all sides currently in or vying for power who represent currents that disturbingly share a few of the core traits of fascism. But I’ll use the shorthand. In the US elections and the Brexit decision we’re given false choices between a sort of straw man Obvious Evil Racist Fascism, and a For Goodness Sakes Don’t Vote For Those Fascists Fascism. Whether it’s intentional or happenstance, low comedy or high tragedy, what purpose does a Farage or a Trump serve other than to make a well-entrenched total surveillance wealth-siphoning austerity machine look like the rainbow parade by comparison?

  2. The first treaty of the EU was the EURATOM a nasty piece enthusiastically promoting nuclear. Perhaps the best way to show love for our fellow Europeans is to stop the plan for the biggest nuclear development in Europe slap bang next to Sellafields EU sanctioned rotting tanks of radioactive waste. If there is an accident here, and that risk is more than doubled with this plan, then arguing about politics will seem a luxury. Good article…Many Thanks! #StopMoorside

  3. Richard Le Sarcophage says

    What in the name of the Almighty does care for the environment, ie protecting human existence, have to do with the crushing of working people by the capitalist parasites? The parasites who have destroyed working people and communities are the same ones who have prevented any proper attention being paid to the ecological crisis. They are the enemies of working people and all Life on Earth.

  4. Shelly says

    I live in the countryside so it is difficult to believe our membership of the EU protects the environment. A farmer near us put in a wildlife corridor and pond alongside a right of way. It is beautiful. His subsidy was reduced because of it.

    CAP causes huge amount of damage. I genuinely believe it is so awful it will allow a mass famine in 20 years or so.

  5. When one looks at history ,similar events happened after the first world war and leading to the 30’s. Many union leaders from marxists to die hard socialist aligned themselves with anarchist and fascist brigades. Anti-establishment was their common thread. The anglo-zionist ruling class had no inkling then to change as they do now. Hence just like the article alluded to any vote from now on will all go against whatever the MSM and its political puppets regurgitate. The danger we have in the west today is the continuation of things the way they r and the prospect of demagogue rising up from the anarchy that has been unleashed by the anglo-zionist themselves. This is part and parcel of their design create dissent and disorder the masses will never know the real shape of things. Deception is the game. Just look at the Brexit doom and gloom the pound sliding. 1:They still have to ratify the referendum in The House and the Upper House hence its not a done deal. Lot of hasbra is coming out of the media propaganda . looking at past referendums in Europe of recent it will be ISQ it was all for show. If the let the financial reset happen earlier rather than later things will stay the same ISQ but if the sheeple start waking up and become more amenable to radical and fundamental change in the western style society it will be very difficult to get any detente with the east. ME Sino-Russian People. Wake up west or the demagogue will rise whom ever She or he may be and Trump being labelled as a demagogue only serves the anglo-zionist agenda of total fascistic corporate hegemoney. Gramsci wrote extensively on Hegemoney but the fascist elites are utilising at present. History we should know it and should really look at our present situation this will hopefully make most people of the western world wake up and reset our society and bring a whole new paradigm shift. The west has proven itself over and over since the end of both world wars that they have been morally and intellectually bankrupt so rise sheeple remember we out number them . (64000) of them and the rest is us. A nuclear winter is getting closer so the ball in our court cause the Sino-_russians and Tehran will not back down to their extortion.

    • My caveat here is that demagogues are rarely a genuine product of popular support – or at least not popular support alone. The fascist leaders of the 30s were all backed by the financial barons, probably in a deliberate bid to derail and/or manage the popular unrest of the time. I don’t see the dangers of demagoguery as essentially different from the other dangers of our current photo-fascist,”globalist” elite.

      • Richard Le Sarcophage says

        ‘Photo-fascist’? Typo, or clever neologism?

          • Kind of along the lines of “Gramsci wrote extensively on Hegemoney.” Or would that be “Hedge-money?”

            But seriously, between a “proto-fascist” or a “photo-fascist,” is there a difference?

      • Totally agree but labelling Trump as a fascist really belittles the term Mussolini wrote the book or the manual of modern fascism it was titled THE CORPORATE STATE. Hence my argument is the west is mirror image of Mussolini’s book . Our whole western society is being used for the benefit of 64000 people and the rest of the world get stuffed. Hence Trump whom I am no advocate of has many enemies around ,The MSM and all the pseudo lefties labelling him as a fascist only makes me laugh, and is also troubling cause it allows the anglo-zionist to muddie the waters with such baseless and non sensicle labels and does not allow for any relevant public discourse. Since Thatcherism and Reaganomics took over the whole western style of economics and politics the Corporate State has grown and further diluted any semblance of democracy in the western countries. Hell look at the state of potable water and distribution in the USA the Flint water disaster this has all happened becuase of the Corporate State we in the west r living Mussolini’s dream . Just this alone should have gotten most citezens to demand change and justice. It was highly criminal what has occurred and all they talk about in the debates is Israel, Bombing takfiris (which they enabled and created). Infrastructure in USA is over due for an overhaul and no increase the military budget to 7 trillion. They r constantly trying to rewrite labour laws all over the west . It was only over a century that the likes of my Grandfather and fellow syndacalist had fought for the 8 hour day when most people were working a 12 hour day. Yesterdays news gets wrapped in todays fish.

        • Seamus Padraig says

          Yes, I get it. The system against which these ‘demagogues’ are railing is itself already fascist, according to Mussolini’s famous dictum: “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.” It just disguises itself as ‘democratic’ now, rather than calling itself by its proper name.

  6. bevin says

    It ought to be understood that all of the elevated labour and environmental standards said to be conditional upon EU membership were in fact introduced by Socialist and Labour parties strongly supported by ordinary working people who, historically, have always leaned not right but left.
    The same is true of penal reform and abolition of the death penalty . It is also true of such reforms as the de-criminalisation of homosexuality and the opening up of opportunities for women. It is true too of improvements in the treatment of immigrants and multiculturalism.
    The idea that these things were achieved despite the working class and despite the masses is completely contrary to the facts.
    The idea that environmental protection, civil rights and equitable labour standards are the products of unelected eurocrats conferring with corporate lobbyists is, frankly, outlandish.
    If you want to see what the EU thinks of environmental standards and labour look at what it does daily in Greece. Or is the working class to blame there too?

    • Richard Le Sarcophage says

      And if ‘Surrender of Sovereignty and Institution of Total Corporate Rule ‘Agreements’ like the TTIP are introduced, there go all labour, social welfare and environmental protections and decencies. The Right has taken back nearly all the social advances granted out of fear of socialism since 1989, when the ‘Communist menace’ disappeared(and the ‘social democrat’ turkeys and Quislings like Blair et al celebrated)but they are insatiable, both in greed and misanthropy. Brexit probably will be a disaster, if only in that it makes an aggression against Syria or Russia (as a diversion and an opportunity to demand loyalty to the Atlanticist elite)that much more likely. But it could also, just possibly be the beginning of a healing catharsis. At least it has rid you of that swine, Cameron.

  7. johnschoneboom says

    Good article, thank you Thomas. History will either prove the excellence of your foresight, or see us goose-stepping to Nigel Farage’s tune as British environmental and labor standards disappear in a US-style race to the bottom and hostilities focus increasingly on foreigners and Muslims rather than the bastards making off with all the money. I doubt anybody feels 100% confident either way. While I personally mourn the loss of unencumbered travel and work around Europe, your piece does make me feel a bit better about the result.

    • Nerevar says

      Just curious: when will British politicians re-introduce the death “penalty”? Or: what would prevent them from that (or worse) “measure”?

      God save British people.

      • johnschoneboom says

        I think those are good questions. It’s easy to say ha ha, the EU are elitist banker swine and this is a victory for the working class, yet it remains difficult to see any swell of a “British Spring” carrying us towards a hearty rejection of austerity and a fundamental restructuring of finance capitalism. One suspects the weasels are just throwing off the shackles of labor and environmental regs, and may go full fascist on us. We’ll have to keep an eye on them. The narrative remains to be written, so we must all fight for authorship.

        • Nerevar says

          You were just demonstrating the worst mistake of current left: talking about environmental and labour standards. I am not sure whether it was intentional or not, but I am afraid it is why ordinary people do lean to far-right. Nobody cares about them, their problems and fears because the environment is more important than their very existence.

          • johnschoneboom says

            You mean to say that you believe environmental standards are incompatible with labour standards? And that everybody’s very existence does not depend on the environment? Not sure where you’re going with this….

            • Nerevar says

              Please, do not get me wrong. I had never said that environment care is bad. But prioritising anything over problems of ordinary people (working class) drives them to fascism.

              • Jen says

                I think it is part of the political elite’s agenda to separate the needs of labour and those of the environment, to put advocates for both at cross purposes and exploit that division.

                Real environmental protection can only be possible when ordinary working people are in charge of that agenda. This applies everywhere, not just in First World countries. For example in the Amazon, some of the leading advocates for preserving the rainforest there have been rubber tappers.

                In Kenya the Maasai can be effective advocates for the preservation of land and wildlife as they use the land sustainably and don’t keep more livestock than is necessary to survive.

                In Sydney during the 1970s, unions like the Builders Labourers Federation fought to preserve the historic and environmental legacy of the Rocks area by blocking development plans. The area is now one of Sydney’s most visited tourist sites.

                • Nerevar says

                  Preciously written. Creating a dichotomy like “labour versus environment” (and every similar dichotomies) is an inherently bad move. But we can’t forget that the to burden ordinary people with environment care expenses is bad as well.

      • Britain abolished the death penalty in the 1960s, several years before joining the EU. Where did this meme originate that the EU is the source of all progressive ideas? 🙂

        • Nerevar says

          Not the source. I just believe EU membership can (sometimes) prevent the fall to a Dark Age.

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