Reflections on Brexit
Class analysis, adapted to contemporary globalisation, provides useful insights into Brexit against a background of global instability and slowing growth. At one pole is the transnational capitalist class, a richly networked, self-aware class comprising the owners and managers of transnational corporations and their political hangers-on (the 1%). Counter-posed to the 1% are the much more dispersed, and nationally oriented working classes, middle classes and marginalised classes.
The global economy is slipping into a crisis of over-production, under-consumption and over-accumulation. We can produce more stuff for more people with fewer workers (relatively) than ever before. This is fine except that fewer workers means slowing demand because fewer people have wages to buy stuff. Slowing demand means that less profit is invested in productive capacity and more flows into the finance sector where it is lent out to support speculation and debt fuelled consumption (and a continuing tithe to the rent seekers of the financial sector). Asset bubbles and excessive debt contribute to recurrent crises, uncertainty and insecurity.
The transnational capitalist class seeks to shore up their position in the face of instability and slowing growth by not paying taxes, demanding small government and privatisation, forcing wages down (for those who still have jobs) and externalising production costs to the environment (by deferring action on climate change). Critical to this program are the trade deals which drive economic integration, raise the rent on intellectual property rights, and prevent government regulation of transnational capitalist enterprise. The European Union projects a vision of inclusion and an end to warring nationalisms but it also epitomises the project of global economic integration whereby fewer but bigger corporations weave their supply chains across further boundaries and dominate larger markets.
The global 99%, the working classes, middle classes and marginalised classes of both the rich and poor worlds, lack the shared identity and communication channels of the transnational capitalist class. As individuals, people are kind and lead decent lives but the political reactions from these dispersed classes to the crisis of economic globalisation (and the policy strategies of the 1%) include irrational violence, xenophobia and communalism, and support for political ferals such as Donald Trump and various European neo-fascists.
The English vote for exiting the EU is a clear rejection of the continuing transnational capitalist project of economic integration and the rising inequality, austerity and privatisation which have accompanied this. However, the xenophobia which wafts out of Brexit is a warning of the Armageddon which hangs over us if the transnational capitalist class is not checked and if we cannot build common cause across the national working, middle and marginalised classes around a more sustainable and convivial vision. The lack of leadership from the political class in the face of this challenge is disappointing.