How Brexit is handled is key to Corbyn being elected, and the success of a radical Labour government
One of the most noticeable elements of recent arguments against Brexit is that they do not bother to consider the actual result at all; not from where it sprung; not its size, nor its place within the history of popular democracy. Gone are the attempts to discuss the vote as advisory, or the regular references to it being based on false promises. Due to the Cambridge Analytica story, and associated Russia-related theories, the Remain bubble in Westminster and the media presumably think those arguments are won.
However, they are not. As might be expected, the same people who bemoaned the ignorance of Leave voters, now base their position on a revivification of the hypodermic needle model of media effects, which, until its recent partial revival as a way to try and understand how big data targets individual desires, has not been taken overly seriously since its brief period in the sun in the 1930s. It is a really thin theory, and despite recent attempts to tailor it for a world where messages can be directly targeted at an individual's perceived beliefs, still hinges on the same model of the unthinking vessel open to direct manipulation: without agency; without ability to interpret.
All of the attempts to explain Brexit as a fix provide comfort to those who cannot, will not, and do not want to engage with the material reality of the 2016 vote, and who would rather look for conspiracies that allow them to present Brexit as the result of millions of people being fed a form of digital soma.
Explaining the vote as an exercise in ignorant self-harm, instead of addressing the real reasons behind it, is also part of the continuing attempt to attack the left in the Labour Party, drive the party rightwards, and return to some sort of business as usual model of centrist politics, so as to avoid a Corbyn government outside of the EU.
The context for this is the continuing collapse of parties of the centre left across the continent. Britain will be different, though, they say; Labour should be further ahead in the polls, and would be so if it would only offer to remain in the European Union. This position is held despite the General Election result last summer, which saw the Labour vote increase in both leave and remain constituencies.
The line of attack is now focused on why Corbyn would want to 'deliberately damage' the economy, along with a return to specious calls for him to ‘show leadership’, aka do what is in the interests of the continuity Remain wing of the Labour Party, its allies in the Tories and Liberal Democrats, and their friends in the City of London. This is the line being peddled by the hapless Owen Smith and on some Labour Party social media pages. There is also a new emphasis on the need for European unity in the face of the threat of Putin coming to the fore as well.
The attempt to weaponise the furore over the Skripal affair in the service of European unity is interesting both in terms of its obvious desperation and also in its evocation of a notion of Europe that is part of the problem in terms of increasing tensions with Russia. Just as the Cold War pitted West against East, the contemporary attempt to recreate this binary pits the expanded NATO, with its troops perilously close to Russia’s border, including in the countries brought in to the European Union since the 1990s, as a homogenous group of ‘free’ nations standing up to the Russian bear. This is a fantasy only existing in the minds of British politicians and their cheerleaders in the media. In reality, there is little consensus in the EU for any extension of current sanctions.
The overall context for all this includes the upcoming local elections, in which Labour is set to do very well. Owen Smith’s decision to junk collective responsibility and back a second referendum, and the decision of thirty or so Labour MPs to table an early day motion supporting Theresa May’s statement that Russia was responsible for the poisoning in Salisbury, are designed to present the impression to the public of a party divided, and in so doing hopefully allow a limitation of the success that is being predicted. They will particularly hope to arrest the expected vote gain in London, the area seen by them as most open to Remain-fever.
What should the radical left position be on Brexit?
The referendum result of June 2016 was predominantly a vote against 40 years of neoliberalism, which has seen a rebalancing of the relationship between capital and labour in favour of the former, and which has left communities decimated and reliant on debt in an economy subservient to finance capital.
A significant factor in the anger felt in Britain’s industrial heartlands was the Labour Party’s retreat from its commitment to a mixed economy and from its historical role as the party of the working class, of labour. This was seen most strongly in its opening up of further aspects of the economy to private capital during the Blair/Brown governments of 1997-2010.
If we ignore this anger, the far right, currently diminished in Britain (although there are worrying signs of a revival in the form of the Football Lads Alliance), will be one winner. The other will be the Tories in the next general election.
While the Jacques Delors-led EU committed itself to a ‘social Europe’ from 1988 onwards, and in so doing cemented its place via a framework of ‘rights’ as saviour and safety net for the liberal centre and bête noire for the global free trade right, the direction of travel for the EU since the 1990s has been towards using legislation to ensure that capital and labour can move and be moved freely within the largest trading bloc in the world, with the interests of the former paramount, and the latter used as so many moveable pawns.
In the service of this economic and political model, governments of the left have been violently attacked and crushed by the troika of the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary fund – witness Greece, where its referendum vote not to accept the troika’s bailout conditions in 2015 was ignored and its citizens subjected to financial privation not seen in Europe since the 1930s. Referendum results have also been ignored in France and Ireland.
In this context, we must see Brexit as an opportunity to break with this direction of travel and as key to the success of a radical Labour government. Ever since the result, the weight of the British establishment, with its allies on the right of the Labour Party, has been trying to overturn it, and paint Brexit as predominantly ignorant, racist, advisory and against the national interest. Most recently we have the attempt to suggest it was rigged via specific targeting following the harvesting of data, as discussed above.
There is no national interest: there is what is in the interest of the working class, and what is in the interest of capitalism and the ruling class, which has been split and plunged into crisis by June 2016, in the process giving the left its greatest opportunity of power since the dawn of the neoliberal era.
Free trade is not internationalist and the Customs Union is designed to restrict the development of the global south through the implementation of tariffs, which ensure the hegemony of Europe and which function as contemporary economic imperialism.
The Single Market, with its strictures upon state aid and its enshrining of the rights of capital, is anathema to socialism and economic planning and control.
We must say yes to a People’s Brexit.
More articles from this author
- Jazz and Justice: Racism and the Political Economy of the Music - book review
- The British Gas workers' strike is a fight for all: interview with a striker - video
- It’s a Sin: lots of heart, but not a lot of politics - review
- Brexit brinkmanship: after 4 years, it’s the safe bet that wins the race
- What is behind Starmer's war on the left?
- Johnson's choice: no good Brexit options
- What about the beat?