Brexit and Alienation

Many of the people who favour Britain leaving the European Union “want us to get back control over own affairs”. They feel that the EU makes important decisions over various aspects of our lives but does not consult with us or take into consideration our views on these matters. One issue which particularly concerns many people is that of migration, of free movement of the citizens of EU countries throughout the whole EU area. This particular concern is part of a more general awareness that we do not have control over our lives in general.


The European Union (previously the European Economic Community ‘Common Market’) has never been very popular with the mass of the people in its constituent countries. Opinion poll and survey evidence shows that it is regarded as remote and authoritarian. People see it as the creation and creature of self-appointed ‘elites’. This is so even in regions which have considerably benefited economically and socially from various EU development programmes. This popular perception does in fact conform with the reality. The EU was brought into being by high state bureaucrats and monopoly capitalists who wanted to ensure a stable future for the continued accumulation of capital. The EU is a continent-wide capitalist super state under construction. It functions in the interests of the monopoly capitalists of the European countries and does not primarily act to defend and improve the lives of workers and middle strata people. This was shown by the EU’s response to the financial crisis of 2008 when it adopted neo-liberal austerity polices to make the people pay for the bankers’ blunders and those of the EU-created European Central Bank in particular.


Also in Britain itself there has been a long-term trend towards people having a lack of confidence in thinking that political parties and successive governments are responsive to popular concerns and implementing policies which benefit the mass of the people. For many people the New Labour Governments from 1997 onwards were disappointing and then the austerity measures imposed by the Tory-led Coalition Government from 2010 onwards have been highly unpopular. Right-wing elements, particularly the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), took advantage of this mass disaffection by putting forward “populist” politics including the nationalist policy of withdrawal from the EU and the curbing of immigration into the UK. This populism contained a certain amount of racist sentiments which have very much come to the surface in the recent disintegration of UKIP.


From a Marxist perspective people’s feelings of powerlessness over the direction in which our society is going is an expression of the underlying alienation which pervades contemporary capitalism. Alienation refers to a social situation where people have lost control over their social relationships. This is fundamentally brought about by the capitalist economic system under which we live. Most of us are ordinary workers employed by capitalist firms. We do not possess the products we make because they belong to the capitalist employer. We do not control our working activity which is determined by the employer and his managers. Our relationships to fellow workers are primarily ones of conflict rather than co-operation. But it is through the process of work that we humans make ourselves. We act on the world to obtain the things we need to live and in so doing change ourselves. Yet we have lost control of this uniquely human activity. We are in a state of alienation and it is this which gives rise to feelings of powerlessness in general.


Britain is a capitalist society ruled by big capitalists, the owners of major industry and commerce, and it is their ideas and outlook, their ideology, which are dominant throughout this society. Opposing ideas which criticise existing society, socialist and communist ones, are not so widespread. Thus when people try to make sense of their situation they often draw upon reactionary ideas which we pick up in everyday life and through the mass media. In particular it is nationalist and racist perspectives which are drawn upon in trying to understand oppressive state policies and mass migration movements. In the controversy over Brexit the British capitalist class are split. The majority want to stay in the EU while a minority want to leave. Either way it is reactionary arguments which are being put forward. We should reject both of these positions. All the while we are under the influence of these reactionary ideas the rich and powerful, the capitalist ruling class, can retain their privileged position and their control over the whole of society. They divide and rule us.

It is the task of communists to disseminate revolutionary socialist perspectives among the working class and middle strata. We must go the people, take up and support them in the struggles they face in employment, housing, education, welfare, etc. and in these practical ways help people acquire the ideological tools they need to hit back at our enemies and begin to take control of our lives. Only by getting rid of oppressive capitalism can we start to build socialism, a system where the great mass of people progressively take real control of our lives, and thus begin to overcome alienation, to achieve true human liberation.