This was a plebiscite against freedom of movement, the most fundamental proletarian demand throughout known history: if we are not even able to run away from our lords and masters, there can be no progress in history.
It has shone a light on a long-term fascist insurgency, epitomized in the assassination of a Labour MP who defended refugees by someone who wants to be known by the name ‘Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain’.
The insurgency is fascist in two respects: one, it has at its dynamic core an anti-hegemonic, at least partly plebeian movement that aims at national re-birth by way of attacking liberal-capitalist elites whom it accuses of undermining national identity through the implantation of Black, Brown, Eastern, Jewish, Mediterranean, Muslim or Slavonic, or just any foreigners into the national body.
It was promoted and amplified by right-wing liberals who tried to instrumentalize it in ‘the national interest’, code for their competition with their class peers in other states from whom they tried to extort cash (‘rebates’) needed to keep the impoverished under- and middle classes sweet for a bit longer without having to limit the growth of their own wealth. The liberal attempt to utilize the fascists was given cover by left-wing nationalists who think the defeat of EU imperialism will clear the way for ‘socialism in one country’. This is the classic constellation in which fascism can gain power.
Also a second important element is part of the textbook fascist constellation: the bankrupt liberals in both main parties have accepted the anti-liberal argument pushed by the mass media that a plebiscite by default trumps the legitimacy and sovereignty of (‘the crown in’) parliament.
They have given up instantly, calling their own bluff. Plebiscitarian democracy, though, eclipsing the mediations and safety brakes characteristic of liberal democracy, is under the conditions of a non-egalitarian society a formidable instrument of Bonapartist and fascist rule. The liberals have now created a situation in which the fascist insurgency cannot but win: if the referendum decision is now ‘walked back’ by those who dare to allow capitalist rationality to reassert itself, the next fascist campaign will be even fiercer than this one.
As democracy loses either way, it is to be hoped Brexit can be buried in its own technical unwieldiness so that we keep at least as large a playing field as possible. In preparation for the next round, though, we should have a public international tribunal to determine the guilt of all those who contributed, however indirectly, to the assassination of Jo Cox.
In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.