Brexit, Low Wages, and The Myth of Working Class Racism

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Part of the elitist backlash against the UK’s popular vote to leave the EU involves castigating the voters for being backward knuckle-dragging racists, or in a milder form, that they are xenophobic. This blog seeks to refute those ideas.

We are told there has been a 57% increase in racist incidents since the referendum. Yet this ‘spike’ does not reveal the far right is on the march, the figure eludes the truth that the number of reported racist incidents rose to 85 in a four-day period from 54 four weeks prior. This kind of up-and-down is not uncommon throughout a normal year. And photos circulated on Twitter regarding far right activity ignore the truth these same protestors have been doing the same thing week on week, they are not new, but they are now advertised by liberal broadsheets intent on finding an upsurge in working class racism.

The second way the political class seek to demonise the masses is by pointing to opinion polls that show up to 23% of Leave voters want to send East Europeans back to their native countries. However, this is a minority. It amounts to just over 4 million voters which wouldn’t be enough to change policy in the democracy that the broader Brexit campaign envisaged.

But more importantly, in the absence of a real rise in racist incidents, to what extent is this 23% of Leave voters truly racist? Not at all, in this blogger’s opinion. If you actually speak to workers who express this sentiment, what you will find is they hate the fact their areas are socially deprived, that their wages are low, that life only seems to be getting worse year on year. The way they understand this is because they have been told for ages (including by the Labour Party), that it is the fault of immigrants coming over here. Of course this isn’t the real reason, but what else could they be expected to believe?

Indeed, many economics professors no longer espouse the labour theory of value that holds that the value of all commodities is determined by the socially necessary labour time that goes into their construction. It is fashionable now in academia to say that value is only subjective. As an anecdote, to refute this argument against a leading professor in Oxford who I met in a pub there, I said “ok, so I’ll order us drinks and only pay 2p, because that’s all I think they’re worth. Barman! Give us two pints for 2p!” Of course he refused. “Do it!” I demanded, “the veritable professor of economics says value is only subjective and I think that’s all it’s worth!” For fear of being kicked out, I calmed the situation down, but the professor still stormed off in a huff. Oh well.

So how does this relate to alleged working class racism? Well given that economics is in such a parlous state where no theory is even possible once objectivity is ruled out, then how the heck are workers supposed to understand the fact that life seems to be getting worse? The symbol of the immigrant taking jobs and depressing wages really does appear as the only explanation. Yet still the working class are so noble, they do not act on this prejudice in hostile ways, but being polite, they simply cast their ballot in a way that will give them more control over their lives. And they are right about that, Brexit will do that. All we need now are political leaders who are less shifty than the current crop, and actually implement Article 50 to take us out of the EU, so real debate, democracy, and progress can actually occur.

Indeed, as a final note on ‘progress’, I would suggest that the real reason for depressed wages and declining living standards is the loss of conviction in the merits of progress upon the part of the political class. Bereft of ideas to take society forward, we have a fairly stagnant economy. In these conditions the value of the most important commodity – labour power – cannot rise. The value of labour power, i.e. what capitalists pay the workers, is determined by the socially necessary labour time that goes into sustaining that human being at a socially acceptable rate. But if society stagnates and progress becomes a taboo word, then it is no wonder that wages also have to stagnate. That’s the material basis of working class anger today, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with racism.

50 Ways To Leave EU’r Lover

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Can Boris Deliver the Killer Blow Against the EU?

 

 

London Mayor Boris Johnson, campaigning for Brexit, is quite correct to state June’s in/out EU referendum is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change things for the better, to help invigorate democracy.

One tactic of the ‘In’ campaign is to pretend ‘better the Devil you know’. According to this thesis, no matter how much you hate the EU, we should remain in it because we don’t know what life would be like outside. A variant of this idea is that life is peaceful in the EU whereas before the EU there were two world wars largely fought on European soil. However, the EU is not a great peacemaker, having stoked conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Ukraine, and Syria. Putting one’s trust in the super-state simply isn’t reliable enough.

Another tactic of the ‘In’ campaign is to portray themselves as ‘metropolitan’ and outward-looking, depicting the Brexiters as xenophobic knuckle-dragging nationalists. The Ins fear that, should the public vote the ‘wrong’ way, it will unleash racism and violence against immigrants. But Britain’s membership of the EU hasn’t overseen a growth of international camaraderie – the EU restricts immigration to 93% of the world’s population and even arguably creates the folk-demon of ‘the immigrant’ as people’s lack of democratic control is reflected as a security crisis. Besides which, it is not narrow-minded to demand democratic accountability from politicians, it is progressive and humanist. The varying national cultures within the EU ought to be allowed to flourish rather than be seen as backward since these down-to-earth attachments do not inevitably cause conflicts.

Whilst it would be foolish to lay the entire blame for everything wrong in Britain and other castrated nation-states on the EU, it is true to say that the dwindling of democratic process, including the straight-jacket on active citizenship and the general character of public discussion, has been altered for the worse by the EU project (as well as other anti-democratic trends).

The problem here is that once all the actors in society, from the elites down to the trade unions, have looked to the EU to formulate regulations in their interests rather than directly trying to win the case with their respective national demos, the masses have become disengaged from politics. In his book “The European Union and the End of Politics”, James Heartfield shows how political actors now attempt to achieve legitimacy by basking in the glow of the apparently untainted EU rather than get messy with publics where arguments have to be heard and contested.

The demise of democracy is not a fault of the masses – if only they could embrace fabricated ‘European identity’! – nor is it a problem susceptible to a technical fix (e.g. giving more power to the elected MEPs rather than the unelected bureaucrats). Rather the whole EU project is inherently anti-democratic because it is a supra-national institution wielding power from a remote place over the democratic institutions people do have a relationship with, i.e. national parliaments.

So what happens to the character of public discussion when democracy is side-lined? Most importantly, the heart of democratic discourse – the central role occupied by the human subject – is ripped out. Thus we look on in bewilderment as people are no longer treated as rational autonomous beings, both by the EU and the altered Westminster. This trend is evident in virtually all debates today from environmentalism, abortion, to public health fanaticism – the human individual is regarded as a menace to be nudged or otherwise made subservient to a new ethical caste of ‘experts’. The basis of this new trajectory in public discourse has been the demise of democracy, for which the growth of the EU is largely culpable.

Therefore, what is at stake in this referendum is not just whether you prefer an Eton Toff to a dour grey Brussels bureaucrat, but the whole character and direction of society. If you want to have a say in who runs your life, voting ‘Out’ is the precondition for gaining back that control. The worst Westminster politician is superior to the best Brussels bureaucrat because at least we can vote them out if we don’t like what they do. And the new ideas that society needs can only emerge through a lot of democratic contestation. By contrast the EU is Europe’s Kim Jong-Un, and it’s time to demolish it.