Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

1066 and All That Brexit

Socialists have consistently pointed out that the European Union is a capitalist institution and is not in the interest of workers to support. Also, the United Kingdom is a capitalist state and we as socialists argue that workers have no interest in the affairs of the British capitalist class, its politicians and its government. The only fundamental issue for workers to consider id how best to unite and take democratic and political action for the abolition of capitalism and its replacement with socialism - a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

Nevertheless, the United Kingdom has now left the European Union. And many workers believe that they will benefit from Brexit and face "a new dawn" and "sunny uplands". With the passing of the EU, Brexit parties and wakes were held on Friday January 31st 2020. There were celebrations and dancing in the streets with much Jingoistic flag-waving from the leavers and tears of sorrow from the remainers.

And most of those doing both the celebrating and the weeping were workers. Millions of workers erroneously took sides in the debate over the trading arrangements of the British capitalist class with their European competitors. But have the economic and social circumstances really changed with the coming and passing of 31st January 2020? There is a lesson from history. Some dates are irrelevant, unremarkable and insignificant. And the day the UK left the EU was one of them.

In history lessons, school children used to have to remember dates of kings, battles, and conquest. 1066 always loomed large as a date which had to be remembered. The book they were forced to read was OUR ISLAND STORY (1905) by H. E. Marshall. It was a book praised by David Cameron when he was Prime Minister. In chapter 24, the story is told of the Battle of Hastings with its date of Saturday, October 15th, 1066. Not 1065, not 1067 but 1066. For 1066 was the year that the Norman William defeated Saxon Harold at the battle of Hastings and became King. Forever remembered as William the Conqueror. The "free Born Englishman", we were told by the Leveller John Lilburne and others in the 17th century, was lost on this day to the "Norman Yoke" as lands were ruthlessly and bloodily passed from the Saxon nobility to the Norman usurpers.

What was the reality? For the serfs living in Anglo Saxon England before the Norman Conquest it was no bed of roses. They were an exploited class tied to the land, the property of the Lord and his manor. Life was hard and relentless. This situation did not change after the Norman Conquest when one ruling class was replaced by another ruling class. Hard remitting work, day-in and day-out was the lot of the serf. There was no difference being beaten by an Anglo Saxon lord than it was by a Norman one. Having to give tithes to a Saxon Bishop was no different than having to give tithes to a Norman one.

The 'Free Born Englishman' is of course a myth; a fairy tale. We are born into a class and a class system in which the means of production are owned and controlled by a capitalist class. The majority, the working class, i.e. most of us, are born into wage slavery. We are born into poverty which forces them as adults and in some cases as children to work for a wage or a salary. We have to sell our labour power as a commodity in exchange for wages. And as a class we are exploited in the productive process. Workers produce "surplus value" which is the unearned income going to the employers as rent, interest and property.

This was the case while British capitalism was still in the European Union just as will be the case after January 31st 2020. The capitalist class own and control the means of production and distribution in or out of the EU, not the workers. Brexit means nothing to the working class and staying in the EU serves no working class interests. Workers do not have an interest in free trade deals, customs and excise, tariffs and all the other commercial arrangements associated with imports and exports.

Production for profit will continue, as will exploitation - and poverty and homelessness. Whichever side of the Channel workers find themselves, whether in France and in the EU, or England and outside it, workers will be struggling to make ends meet on meagre pay or pensions, worrying about job security, housing and health issues etc. Such problems are hardly touched by international trade agreements.

The nationalism - and even overt racism - which fuelled the Brexit campaign, with its divisive rhetoric, has been deeply damaging. The EU, whatever its faults, was an attempt to prevent a recurrence of the nationalism which brought about such horrific European wars in the 20th century and earlier. The ideal was to promote peaceful integration, better understanding of the peoples of the continent. However the ideas of the EU founders came up against the reality of capitalism. 'Fortress Europe', the EU's anti immigration policies and its own expansionism is part of this problem. The Brexit movement's success marked a return to pre-1939 populism and pre-1914 chauvinism. Class solidarity is never reflected in the media's endless Brexit wars.

The memorable date of 1066 was sent up in a book called 1066 (1930), written by W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman and illustrated by John Reynolds. It was a spoof aimed at the way history was taught - as a series of dates, of kings/queens and so on with a minimum of information. Ironically the book ended with the United State becoming the "Top Nation" and history coming to an end. If 1066 is an unremarkable date for the working class to remember what of January 31st 2020? Is this a "memorable date"? There was no partying by socialists or wearing of dark arm bands. Socialists did not give a toss.

The class position of the Saxon serfs mirrors that of the working class today. Serfs were an exploited class prior to the Norman Conquest, just as they were afterwards. Workers were an exploited class before Britain joined the Common Market, almost 50 years ago, as we are now leaving the EU on the 31st January 2020 and will remain an exploited class afterwards. Workers are still tied to the capitalist class. They still produce more in social wealth than they receive in wages and salaries. They face the same problems of poverty, periodic periods of high unemployment, poor housing and second best health care and other goods and services they and their families need to live on.

The real question facing the working class is not Brexit but: capitalism or socialism. Will our future continue to be class ownership, production for profit and the exploitation under the wages system? Punctuated by periodic wars? Or a future of hope, with common ownership, democratic control, production directly to satisfy people's needs, and distribution on the principle of 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs'? A remarkable date for Socialists will be when world socialism is established. And with the abolition of money there will be no celebratory 50 pence pieces. Nor will there be the waving of nationalistic flags. There will be fireworks and dancing in the streets. Hopefully it will be soon.

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