Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit As Repoliticised Politics, by Matthew Cooper

What a morning to wake up to in Saint Paul!

Not only do we have the news that fifty-two per cent of Britons have voted to leave the European Union, but also that David Cameron is tendering his resignation.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t surprised by the first result. I was – pleasantly so.

And I’d also be lying if I said Cameron’s resignation as PM didn’t make that surprise all the sweeter.

This is indeed a watershed moment, but not for the reasons the politicians most concerned are wont to claim.

For example: pace Nigel Farage, Brexit was not – and never was – a referendum on immigration policy. 

Regardless of the strong presence of an anti-immigration element among the Leave campaign organisers, whether Britain stays in or withdraws from the European Union will have absolutely no immediate impact on the levels of immigration from non-EU members such as Syria. 

It will not do to say that the current vote heralds a hostile, racist or xenophobic stance toward – as the more hysterical of the Remain camp have begun to claim – either Britain’s non-white populace or foreign nationals who are already living and working there. 

Still less does it mean a return to British imperium or pre-WWI economic power. 

It is actually rather comical that UKIP are now seeking ‘free trade’ with the European Union after going directly afoul of the banksters who run it, but that goes somewhat to show how out-of-touch they were with the ramifications of their own campaign.

Likewise, pace Nicola Sturgeon, Alex Salmond, Jo Rowling and the other doomsayers in Remain, Brexit is not, and should not be taken as, a referendum on Scotland’s standing within the United Kingdom. 

However, Brexit may end up making it the case that within Britain regional concerns will take on far greater importance. 

The reason for this, is that Brexit was in fact a moment at which the same phenomenon which lifted Jeremy Corbyn to power, was voted on by the British general public and influenced the course of the entire United Kingdom. 

Corbyn was elected to his current seat as the head of the Labour Party on two principles: that policy matters more than narrative, and that the same impersonal market forces and bureaucracies which have emptied politics of its content do not need to dictate those same politics. 

Dr Wang Hui – professor of literature at Tsinghua University and leading scholar of the Chinese New Left – coined a phrase which he used extensively in his book on Chinese modernity, The End of the Revolution: ‘depoliticised politics’. 

In his case, he used it to refer to the formal dominance of the Chinese Communist Party in Chinese political life, whilst at the same time the content of politics was emptied of all its former meaning and a naked neoliberal logic of markets was used to fill the void. 

The collective action of human beings – as in Tiananmen Square in 1989 – was barred from consideration as a force for change. 

Although no single party rules the European Parliament in the same way the CCP rules China, it is still the case that the European Union project represents this same kind of depoliticisation of politics. 

Collective action and organisation at the local or national level are ignored in favour of a faceless and democratically-unaccountable technocracy operating out of Brussels: the Commission, the Central Bank and the IMF.

This technocracy justifies itself in exactly the same way, it should be noted, as the Chinese Communist Party after Deng Xiaoping has justified itself: without us, there will be no growth, no good times, no economic stability. 

Britain has now delivered a stunning popular rebuke, both to the argument that they need the European Troika and the technocratic structure it represents, and to the underlying principle that the collective action of people at the grassroots is subservient and subject to neoliberal market logic – the latter of which would have dictated that British people stay in the Union out of pure consumeristic self-interest.

Without denying that some degree of this rebuke was issued for less-than-admirable reasons – to wit, the reasons of nativism, xenophobia, nostalgia for Empire – the end result is something which ought to be cheered by the Left at large.

Brexit is at its core a ‘repoliticised politics’, a statement that Thatcher was wrong – there is an alternative to neoliberalism, and a different kind of statecraft is indeed possible.

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