Leaving aside the outright racist and anti-immigrant arguments of many right-wing and left-wing Brexiteers, the 'progressive' arguments on both sides of the debate are unconvincing to me. Some supporters of Remain are apt to cloud the issue of EU membership with sentimental Europhilia or to condemn all Brexit supporters as racists and thickos (you can't have a plebiscite, you know, without plebs). Other Remainers - such as the Guardian's Polly Toynbee - have drawn the recent, horrific murder of the pro-EU Labour MP Jo Cox into the discussion, warning that an exit from the EU will unleash the forces of 'fascism' (the usual bogeyman of the liberal-capitalist imagination) or at least pave the way for a right-wing cataclysm led by Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage. I'm not so sure. Johnson and Farage, it is true, have nothing to offer working-class people except hatred and oppression. But politicians on the Remain side of the debate - the Camerons, Osbornes and Hunts of this world - have been responsible for inflicting terrible suffering among the unemployed, disabled and immigrants for many years. In fact, the Remain politicians are at least as dangerous as the Brexiteers, not least because they are the ones who have actually been attacking the working class, as opposed to merely bloviating about immigrants and benefit scroungers. And while I can understand and respect the perspective of those who genuinely fear a post-Brexit free-market tsunami, the question remains: if Brexit would really be such a boon for British capitalism, leading to the shredding of workers' rights and so on, how come most of the ruling class is lining up against it?
On the other hand, there are few reasons to buy into the 'progressive' Leave campaign's narrative that exiting the EU - once the common goal of most British leftists, of course - will improve the lot of ordinary people in Britain. For those who believe in social democracy, the case for Brexit is clear: this vote is about EU membership and the EU is patently undemocratic (to say the least). Yet even if a Brexit does come about (and it should be remembered that a referendum victory for Leave would not be legally binding), an 'independent' British capitalism will continue to be locked into the structures of global capitalism and will continue to exploit, degrade and divide workers. This is not because the campaign has been hegemonized by the populist right (although it certainly has), but because Britain is a capitalist state that cannot, even without ties to the EU, be truly democratic. The exact makeup of political forces in post-Brexit Britain is largely unknowable at this point; but in the absence of large-scale working-class struggle, the idea promoted by some left-wing Leavers that an exit vote could usefully destabilize the British state seems fanciful.
This referendum is the stage for a bourgeois faction fight in which the dominant 'neoliberal' faction of British capitalism aims to strike a decisive blow against its anti-EU adversary. But whichever side prevails on Thursday, the big winner will be the British ruling class as a whole, which will have succeeded once again in persuading us to participate in another of its electoral spectacles. The fight over EU membership is not our fight. Instead of voting for one gang of capitalists or another we would do better, I think, to focus on our own struggles. True internationalists should consider what is going on just across the Channel in France, where the current, massive labour reform bill protests are a reminder that the working class can and must fight on its own terrain, regardless of the capitalist formations - national, European, or global - in which it finds itself.