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Reek the vote
June 7, 2016, 11:24 am
Filed under: people, social theory | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here are some thoughts on the upcoming referendum on the UK’s future with the EU. I will not try to predict what the outcome of this referendum will be, or what the outcomes of any outcome might be, because nobody knows. I just felt like reflecting on the phenomenon.

First of all, this phenomenon reflects the fact that the ruling class is not a coherent group; the interests of different actors within the ruling class do not necessarily converge. I am not going to argue over whether the political elites are the representatives of powerful economic groups in society, I take that as a given. It would be interesting, however, to investigate properly whether Boris Johnson’s position and Cameron’s position on the referendum are consistent or not with the interests of their allies/friends in the economic field, or more precisely the economic/political field, what Bourdieu would call the field of power. My guess is that they are consistent.

Secondly, and linked to my first point, the referendum has nothing to do with democracy. It has to do with minor redistribution of power between different elite groups, and with designing a new status quo whereby the exploited will be exploited even more. Regardless of which group gets its way, all elite groups (even the “losers”) will continue occupying a privileged position in designing the strategies within which all the rest of us will have to make do. Regardless of who wins, the only certain outcome will be more exploitation of the dispossessed (remember if the UK stays in the EU it will negotiate its position therein). If you think that abolition of free movement of labour power in the case of a Brexit will negatively affect the manufacturing sector (because manufacturers will lose access to reserves of cheap labour), you are wrong. If cheap manual labour is what part of the economy wants, then the establishment will find a way to provide it, in or outside of the EU.

Thirdly, something that concerns EU immigrants in the UK, and linked to my previous point, the destiny of EU migrants in the UK is not going to change massively regardless of the outcome. If you are an EU citizen residing in the UK and you earn a lot of money, you will continue having the right to reside in the UK as long as you continue making loads of money. If your life in the UK is precarious now, it will continue being precarious regardless of the outcome. As I said earlier, this referendum is about re-designing the strategy of domination. If the UK decides to stay in the EU, don’t be surprised if some of the “rights” enjoyed by the precarious are taken away anyway.

Fourthly, ultimately the choice between EU and no-EU is a mechanism for legitimating the new status quo of exploitation.

It has been interesting (not really, I’m exaggerating) watching the different discourses being produced. As expected, EU membership is usually reduced to things such as immigration, lack of accountability, the TTIP negotiations, and contribution to EU budget by those in favour of “out”, versus sustaining peace in the region, workers’ rights, and controls over the corrupt British political system for those in favour of “in”. Believing that by voting in this referendum anyone has control over any of those issues, is just as big a fantasy as believing that the referendum is about democracy. The UK has been a part of the European project for almost half a century now. Did this stop the exploitation and alienation of the masses, injustice, or the emergence of a few actors with sickening wealth? No, it did not. Will exit from the EU stop plans to exploit the environment, workers, or mean that state resources will suddenly be allocated to the poorer strata of society? No, it will not. If you vote for exit hoping for less immigrants “stealing your jobs” or “ruining your culture” you’re in for a surprise. Similarly, in or out of the EU, workers’ rights might improve or deteriorate depending on what the ruling classes want. If the latter decide that better conditions of work might attract better workers or increase productivity (allowing for expropriation of more surplus value) then, in or out of the EU, workers will be presented with better conditions (I’m not even entering the discussion about what “better conditions” means and what role ideology plays in concealing the “real” conditions of existence).

Having said that, I don’t want to imply that the ruling class has absolute control or that it operates under conditions of “perfect information”, whereby it can plan an optimum strategy. Moreover, the way the political system works at a national level or the EU level is also extremely complex and full of uncertainty. The ruling class will also have to play it by ear, as its been doing anyway, that is why trying to outguess what the outcome of the referendum will mean for us is an exercise in futility. The less privileged will just have to make do with the new strategy presented to them when the time comes. Relative positions will not change significantly. If you occupy a relatively privileged position you should expect something similar regardless of the outcome. If you are fucked now you will continue being fucked regardless of the outcome.

To sum up, the choice between in and out of the EU is being caught between a rock and a hard place. It is an illusion of choice. And it is a legitimation of the process of a minor re-distribution of wealth between powerful groups in society. People will participate in the different discourses that the powerful produce and will vote based on their perceived interest on the basis of these discourses. I am not very familiar with UK party politics, but if the UK has historically constructed the EU as a scapegoat for everything that “goes wrong”, then I would expect a victory for Brexit.


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