The result of the recent British referendum has shown that there is a real and deep class divide in the UK. The same thing can be said about many EU countries as well.
The class struggle has come back and the social composition of Leave supporters in Britain has a clear identity. They are the lower social strata: the working class and the poor. In short, they are the British popular classes whose income, employment, housing, social services etc. has been negatively affected, as evidenced by existing data, due to globalization and austerity policies in recent years.
Apart from certain significant spatial and demographic differences (e.g. the particular attitude of the working class in London, the indirect expression of separatist moods in Scotland and Northern Ireland or the youth’s clear resolve to Remain) which have their own explanation and whose importance is undeniable, the outcome of the British referendum was shaped by all those people who for the past years have been experiencing the effects of a systemic crisis, neoliberal policies and the ensuing decline in democratic process. Consequently, the discontent of the popular classes has reached very high levels, and given the opportunity to express themselves in a referendum, they opted to exit overcoming the elites’ fear-based campaign, especially in the economic field.
This is completely logical if we make a relatively recent review of British history. When the UK abandoned the gold standard in 1931, economic elites had warned that this would be a disaster. Instead it led to a rapid growth period. In 1992, economic elites warned that leaving the European Monetary System would be a disaster. However, the economy grew. In the late 1990s the UK elites tried unsuccessfully to enter the Monetary Union and the British economy has gone much better than most countries in the euro zone. Why should now be any different?
The vote for Brexit has put the future of the EU on the table. The popular classes are becoming aware that they have lost control over their environment in a smaller or a larger scale. They realize that they have lost sovereignty; they have less and less control over the people governing their country (or the EU for that matter). Democracy is in a growing decline which seems to have no end.
Many have tried to provide answers to "why Brexit?", but "to what end?" remains disturbingly unanswered, at least from a progressive perspective. Despite the class composition of Brexit and the legitimate discontent of the popular classes, there is no complete, class and ideologically determined reasoning, a narrative of the Left. Instead there is only the reactionary neo-mercantilist conservative approach that incorporates the most extreme nationalist, xenophobic and fascist trends.
In other words, the UK is yet another example that confirms that while the socioeconomic conditions necessary for a radical progressive transformation mature under the persistent, systemic capitalist crisis, unfortunately the political subjects – political parties, trade unions, self-organised movements – to offer a realistic radical vision are either organizationally and politically weak and disconnected or entirely absent.
Of course at the same time weaknesses in managing popular reactions are also exhibited in the upper middle class and its major political spokesmen. Indicative of this is the “numbness” of the bourgeois parties and circles of power in the UK following the result of the referendum. The British state and society are experiencing a period of class and political confusion, which certainly nourishes the serpent’s eggs already hatched not only on the British islands but throughout Europe.
The reaction of the EU-27 following the Brexit is typical of the causes that have led and will probably lead to other exits. Amid a general "euroscepticism" that largely stems from the democratic deficit and the persistence in a policy of brutal neoliberal restructuring, the day after the referendum just six founding members met in Berlin to decide in advance in view of the forthcoming Summit.
Then A. Merkel denied M. Renzi’s request to recapitalize Italian banks. This, coupled with the clear positioning of all European officials on the need for resolute implementation of the Greek program, indicates the obsession with an even tougher economic policy.
The outcome was yet another essentially fruitless two-day Summit. The EU-27, apart from their bitterness for the UK and Juncker’s cues to Farage, had nothing to propose about the Union’s future. The "leaders" remained silent in sight of the latest developments, sticking with a Union that the people of Europe reject ever more strongly.
If the EU continues its punitive policies of austerity, privatization and structural reforms (wage cuts, job flexibility, less unemployment benefits, reduction of social security and pensions), the popular revolt will grow and it might even lead to the dismantling of the EU and the euro zone.
It is evident that the popular classes of Europe understand that there is something very wrong with the EU and it is the European Left’s job to provide them with an alternative program on both national and transnational levels, a realistic proposal about what democracy should mean today. People must gain back their national sovereignty, and that also means political, economic and monetary sovereignty.