Britain’s decision to exit the European Union has reignited the debate on left strategy in Europe. In particular, the demands, “Out of the EU!” or “Exit from the euro!” have been adopted as the appropriate left-wing strategy in the wake of Brexit.
It is clear to most that nationalist and racist overtones dominated the Brexit campaign. Corbyn biographer Richard Seymour wrote, “In most circumstances I would have supported a Brexit, but in this campaign the left played no role. It was a dispute between two right-wing camps, although the vote for ‘Leave’ was by far the uglier option — Brexit is making Great Britain a racist country while the problems of the EU are left untouched.” It is not surprising that Le Pen, the FPÖ, or Wilders were among the first to cheer the vote. The Left must not lend its voice to this jubilation. Exit campaigns dominated by the Right are no place for the Left.
Though broad criticism of the EU is growing, it remains dominated by the Right. Therefore, it is crucial that the Left clearly differentiate itself from conservatives on this question. We must develop a clear and radical critique of the EU’s neoliberal, imperial, and undemocratic constitution that goes beyond a superficial criticism of elites or the euro. A left-wing critique must center on the violence done to the interests of the majority of people by the neoliberal EU and the class relations and system of governance on which it rests. Right-wing populists object to the euro, even as a debate continues in the AfD over whether it is against the euro or wants to strengthen “German” dominance within the EU. The populist forces of the Right shift continually between neoliberalism and the nationalist ethnopluralism of the New Right. They may reject “cosmopolitan neoliberalism” as represented by Angela Merkel and significant segments of Social Democracy and the Greens, yet in the event of a renewed escalation of crisis, they are ready for an openly authoritarian, neoliberal solution counter to the interests of working people.