This year we have seen two referendums in Europe concerning the future of the European Union. The first one had relatively little impact. The Dutch were allowed to have their say in the trade deal between the EU and Ukraine. The second one is, of course, Brexit. Although the latter is a hundred times more significant, both showed the wide gap between a large part of the populus and the rule-makers.
More than actually being against a deal with Ukraine or Britain’s membership of the European Union, the results of both referendums showed that people don’t like how things are generally going in the world and in their country. It’s a cry for attention, a desperate provocative reaction to force a change. It’s abused and misinterpreted and it’s most of all a result of not listening.
This has led to a lot of people stating that a referendum is generally not a good idea. Letting people decide over such important, complicated matter is not responsible, they say. The government is democratically elected to make these decisions for us, we don’t need to have the population vote on individual cases.
This is not entirely inaccurate or incorrect. As stated before, we saw the last two referendums were not used what they were meant for and that a lot of people didn’t have the proper information to make an educated decisions. For example: the Google search entry “What is the EU?” spiked in Britain, right AFTER the referendum.
From this you can draw the conclusion that we can’t trust the people with decisions like these. Fair enough. But this is not because the people by default are stupid and uninformed. This is the result of people being kept out of the loop for decades, telling them they didn’t need to think or participate or care. “Just vote once in a while, and we will do the rest.”
A democracy is only a true democracy when the people can not only choose who will represent them, but have the right to control what their representatives are doing and make them leave when they don’t do their job. People are not too dumb, too cynical or too impulsive for that. People care, and people know what they want. It’s the years of bureaucracy and technocracy that MADE them cynical and uninformed. When you give people responsibility, you make them to get informed. Letting others do their work for them, this exact sentiment of “Just vote once in a while, and we will do the rest”, is exactly what made them apathetic and drew them to populism and intolerance. Jaded and misguided, groping in the dark they became an easy prey for the monsters of the far-right.
Instead of “listening to the people” the fascists use the frustration and cynicism of the people to feed them their hateful rhetoric. They pretend to have a solution, an answer to their woes. It’s like a drug dealer feeding on the desperation of an addict. Heroin won’t fix their problems, but it gives the dealer the ultimate tool of power. Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson do it in England, Wilders across the North Sea, Le Pen in France and Donald Trump in the US. Power hungry, hateful (pseudo)fascists that reap the hate of the people to put themselves in power.
The only way to restore this crisis of power, is for the working class, the actual people that make the country, to seize the means of production and control of the administration of the European Union. Only with a direct democracy where the people are in charge of the companies, the factories, the institutions and every layer of society, we can have an actual proper democracy. In its current form, the EU is a confederacy of the elite that enables the rich to work together for maximum profit and exploitation of the working class. What we need, is a strong leadership on the left. True, genuine socialist leaders that know the theory of Marx and Engels. The working class must be lead by people free of elitism and moderate liberal ideas, but help them to organise and together take control.
So, are referendums a bad idea? No, not per se. In his famous work “State and Revolution”, Vladimir Lenin perfectly describes how important it is that the people as whole have control over the nation. They must together make decisions; choose their representatives but also keep constantly involved in the political process. In our current political and economic system a referendum is a mismatch. Imagine a group of people asking a carpenter to build them houses. Year after year they are not happy with their results. Then, the carpenter one day tosses his hammer on the ground says: “Okay, you build this house!” Would the people do a better job? Not likely! The carpenter has never let them hold a hammer or taught them how to saw a log into a plank. So yes, a short answer: decision making by referendum is not a smart idea. But the larger picture: Europe has been suppressing its working class by denying them actual democratic rule and through that rendering them incapable of educating themselves and that way they make them unable to make proper political decisions.