The British Empire is the oldest of the imperialist powers. Once the dominant imperialist force in the world, able to call almost a third of the world’s resources to its aid, it has long since found itself pushed closer and closer to the precipice of destruction. The precipice has now taken a concrete form: Brexit.
This fall into ruin has been long on the horizon, staved off by the British ruling class as they carved a unique and valuable position amongst global capitalists as the broker of wealth between US and EU capital. This position allowed British imperialism to limp parasitically onwards, sustained by the favourable trade and currency deals between the two giants, able to participate in the dividends of both the US imperialist bloc and the EU imperialist bloc.
However, this favourable position for the British ruling class was always going to run out of borrowed time. As capitalism falls deeper into crisis and the world is entirely divided between great powers, the expansion of the EU imperialist bloc has necessarily forced it into competition against the US and its dominance. Britain is now forced to decide upon its favoured ally. That is to say, the contradiction in the British position has forced the hand of the British ruling class by seeing them hold a referendum that would decide, supposedly, if Britain would favour involvement in the EU bloc, or if Britain would favour greater involvement in US imperialism, as has happened with the Brexit referendum.
In reality then, far from being the battleground of modern British politics (as some would claim), Brexit is the overt realisation of the long established fracture in the British ruling class which is undecided as to which bloc would benefit their interests the most. Brexit is a symptom of a ruling class disagreement between which would be of more benefit; greater ties with the EU, or greater ties to the US. Brexit is the symptom of an ongoing split in the ruling class over which sphere of interest they wish Britain to ally with. It is not in itself the political battleground.
The reality, however is that this debate will inevitably - as has already been seen - affect the lives of the British working class severely. This tension between the ruling classes realised in the apparent decision to leave the EU has already proved to be a flawed manoeuvre on the part of the Brexiteer faction of the British ruling class, as they failed to realise that the US, particularly under president Trump, has shown little interest in forming closer ties to Britain if Britain were to leave the EU.
That is not to say that a greater union between the US and Britain (or the EU for that matter) is impossible, but merely that such an agreement would have to be vastly more profitable to the US than it would be to Britain, and that it would moreover be impossible for such a deal to replace the trade deficit left by a cutoff in trade from the EU which is particularly likely in a no-deal scenario.
A no-deal scenario then, especially in light of the woefully unprepared levels of British stockpiles and production output, will likely lead to a complete collapse of British imperialism as well as widespread shortages of supplies and a depreciation of the pound. Of course, the Tory government can see this coming, and have sought to strengthen links with the US and other imperialists following on from the unconvincingly aptly timed Skripal incident, leading to Britain supporting the US’ antagonisation efforts against Russia, further supporting Trumps war cry against Venezuela, as well as past incidents involving Korea, the Crimea and Syria.
We can see in the current Tory government, then, their complete willingness to bend over backwards to gain any sort of favour from US imperialists. Yet it is perhaps too little too late.
In the shadow of Brexit, the government has asked companies to stockpile food in already crowded warehouses, they have signed shipping deals with shipless companies, and there has been no real preparation for a no-deal Brexit other than the strengthening of the police force in the occupied six counties of Ireland, and the quiet whispers of preparations for martial law and the putting down of revolutionary activity following on from the disastrous result of a no-deal Brexit. It should here be noted that in times of unresolvable contradiction, the ruling class will seek to defend itself by struggling through the contradiction with force, often in the form of fascism. This is a very real risk if a no-deal Brexit takes place, and a risk which can be seen throughout the Brexit debate, showing the weakness of the position of the ruling class and of the ‘alternative’ offered in the Labour Party.
In Ireland, Britain is strengthening its police force, its special services, and its army personnel in expectation of unrest as people in Ireland are presented with the possibility of the partition line which divides the Irish nation becoming a hard border. A no-deal brexit and a hard border in Ireland is bound to see renewed poverty and oppression in the north of Ireland as they are cut off from the other 26 counties and further subjugated to Westminster. The British ruling class are unable to see a path for British imperialism which does not rely upon greater brute force in order to sustain their assets.
As such, as British imperialism hangs by a thread, what are we left to do? As the country potentially faces starvation, and almost definitely faces an end to its imperialist power, how must we act? Of course, as the British ruling class realises the depth of their plight, we will see the wounded beast at its most violent and most dangerous, so what can we hope to do with fascism at the doorstep? Should we, the left, back remain, and support the continuation of British imperialism by attaching itself to the EU? Or should we perhaps support a no-deal Brexit, potentially ending British imperialism but also harming the British working class in the process? Or, by rejecting the narrative of the choice which is only relevant to the ruling class (remain or leave, ties to the EU or the hope of ties to US imperialism), and instead try to prepare the working class for what is to come, through organisation and preparations of our own.
The Bolsheviks won a revolution through the slogan “peace, bread and land.” If the British ruling class is to retain any power at all, it will be by siding with another nation in an imperialist war, whether economic or military, and it falls to us to point out the contradictions in the capitalist mode of production which will inevitably lead us down this path of war and destruction. The choice is clear, socialism or barbarism. Peace, bread and land, or the utter destruction of the working class in Britain and the rise of fascism. This is the crossroads we find ourselves in, and Brexit is but the insidious, dying breath of the British ruling class, a symptom of the great contradiction in the current position of British imperialism.
As internationalists, we will not support remain or leave, but rather we push for a working class movement which stands in opposition to British imperialism. We must, now more than ever stand by that old Bolshevik slogan: peace, bread and land!