Detail of 16th century map depicting Europe as an imperial ruler. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Brexit referendum: in-out, in-out, shake it all about
- June 9, 2016
Borders & Beyond
The EU vote offers a mirror to the British left. The right-wing “remain” and “leave” coalitions are both monstrosities. It is up to us to liberate ourselves.
I put my right foot in,
I put my right foot out,
Shake it all about.
— Hokey Cokey, British folk song and dance
This article is part of the Transnational Media Network productions on the #BrexitDebate.
Many in the UK are now flocking — in white-liberal waves — to the remain camp, to #leadnotleave, led by former and current prime ministers and big business, a vote which hedges itself on a reactionary unholy allegiance of European capital; a lease of life for neoliberalism’s bludgeon.
Many are flocking — in neo-fascistic waves — to the leave camp, a siren that what remains of Britain’s social contracts will soon tear away, unveiling the full force of what has been chiseled by the status quo for centuries; a Union Jack tinted white-imperial-hetero-patriarchy.
Theory and ideology are useful as tools, but terrible as guides. The only guide is context, the political terrain. This is where our knowledge and experience comes to life. I firmly grasp the return ticket from Europe in my palm, but my train hasn’t arrived — only the night-train toward right-wing xenophobic isolationism. So for now, I’ll remain, riding neither waves. I say this because no political position is of use devoid of the political context it exists within, and the social and political context of Britain in 2016 is utterly predictable looking at recent history, but also completely unique.
The political and social climate we exist within, where big media is voted as the most right-wing in Europe, where young black boys are rounded up summarily under ill-defined and racist gang-control police initiatives, where the prevalence of homelessness, domestic abuse and mental health issues are soaring in alignment with the austerity cuts in domestic violence services, public housing and access to health care — all means that this country teeters on the brink of social collapse; a collapse that could trigger a tipping point in social relations.
A post-Brexit unfettered right-wing government speeds collapse, coupled with growing and confident far-right non-state actors it would push societies’ most vulnerable into new heights of oppression. Thus, when examining the IN or OUT vote we must be vigilant in understanding that the outcome is what counts, and that it is predominately those not voting, those trapped in wage slavery and precarious day-to-day lives who will face the wrath. Our role as revolutionaries is to play a meta-game, to forecast, to plan ahead.
Deborah Grayson, an activist in Britain recently highlighted how a lack of communal vision means a lack of possibility to counteract the right: “There’s no story about how we’re going to build a more equal society afterwards; there’s no excitement about the new institutions we might build or the positive, progressive culture we can feel developing around us.” In truth, we have nothing near an organized social force that could contest the hounds of the Conservative Party and the far-right.
Britain’s most important referendum for a hot minute is imminent, and to put it simply, we’re not ready. Progressives of the left posit arguments highlighting an imperial European Union, where Europe’s ruling class still seeks to consolidate its colonial influence and borders by utilizing terrorism in all forms to advance the mission of a rigged neoliberal free-trade regime.
A European Union superseded by a Troika whose structural adjustment plans plunge the common person into paying for capitalism’s crisis. A European Union that murders tens of thousands through its rampant border militarization, racist asylum laws, inhumane detention policies, unjust deportations and corporate carrier sanctions.
A European Union which coalesces around NATO, deploying state militaries as a methodology to forward the strategy of neocolonialism (see Libya). A European Union guided by private conversation, fundamentally undemocratic institutions with no real mandate from the people. A European Union working at the behest of big business (read TTIP), protecting the interests of the EEA, EFTA, NATO, driving forward climate chaos and the destruction of indigenous communities with its colonial models of economic growth and progress.
These arguments can never be repeated enough, but to place them in their rightful context is to see that they exist peripheral to two well-funded camps, the public faces of this debate: the remain camp, whose champions include the Mayor of London and the Prime Minister, guardians of the neoliberal order, and the leave camp, whose champions are the mainstream media (headed up by Rupert Murdoch), far-right political groups such as UKIP, the BNP and Britain First (neo-fascists), and leading Conservative Party lights such as the Justice Minister and former Mayor of London, bumbling Boris Johnson.
So, bearing in mind what the European Union, alongside its strategic partners of the ECB, IMF, NATO and others, represents to the majority of the world’s population — a centralized neoliberal monstrosity — would withdrawing ourselves actually affect the Commission, Council and Parliament, or would it have little to no effect on business-as-usual for the boys’ club?
There is no doubt that any boardroom that loses one of its oldest, best networked and most influential chairmen, will suffer. In this sense the UK wields incomparable soft power (the ability to attract and persuade). The esteem it lends the EU makes the EU more attractive to foreign investment and potential members. The supply chains, policy interests of corporates and the ability to raise finance would be impacted by an exit, a triumph by some people’s account, and mass unemployment for others.
The Netherlands, one of the UK’s closest financial and political relations in the EU, will invariably suffer from the fallout, but in the Netherlands we see the possibility of something greater: a contagion. An exit from the EU signals a white flag to many Europeans, such as in the Netherlands where the Eurosceptic Freedom Party (PVV) is heading the polls; in Cyprus, where following a crisis and bailout 38 percent of the population oppose the EU; or in Austria, where the anti-immigration right-wing populist and Eurosceptic party FPÖ lost the general election by 0.7 percent.
A UK exit would signal that now is time to ratchet up the reactionary sentiment. This contagion would be carried on the shoulders of far-right groups. The European left is far from ready to counter this — it could be, but we hedge that risk on the most vulnerable societies.
In the UK, we would be embarking on an unprecedented program of consolidating power in the hands of the few; a place we are arguably already heading towards, the only difference here being the speed and depth of the regression. The instituting of a Fortress Britain would result in an atmosphere of intense xenophobia, black and brown settled diaspora would face an onslaught of renewed racism and migrants, although historically ready to rebel, would be under a severe and toxic mix of uncertainty, sub-human living conditions and unlawful detention. Domestic terrorism from white supremacists would escalate.
The validation that would be wholesale stamped onto the public, that white imperial Britain does best when left to its own devices, to its own values and to its own identity, would lead Britain into both a familiar and wholly new territory of rabid nationalism.
Shanice OM, an organizer and activist based in London, writes that “the possibility for the EU to be seriously strengthened is very real, and (it is) this which is going to have very real implications for the current ‘cold’ genocide being enacted by the EU against non-EU migrants. In-voters need to seriously engage with this, and I’ve seen nothing at all convincing to be honest” (italics added).
There is no moral upper hand in voting to remain in Europe. Instead, there is a huge responsibility to begin to link up with anti-imperialists across Europe, to bring the behemoth to a halt, to tangibly build a strategy that ends the genocide which only last week saw several hundred non-EU black and brown migrants killed in the Mediterranean Sea.
Many tout that the European Union fosters innumerable dialogues and attracts plenty of progressive conversations, that it facilitates the enshrining of multiple workplace rights for Europeans. The Commission too can push a liberal agenda of preserving human rights, and if we remain we will undoubtedly have a faux haven in these protections from the Tory onslaught. But these protections, when provided by elite institutions, are simply privileges. They call Shanice’s point into central focus: that we are also deeply responsible for combating the EU’s institutions and their narrative; that we cannot allow for determinism to hold sway as the order of the day.
As tear-gas canisters keep Europe’s unemployed youth paralyzed, as we remember the month after month for years that European squares have been filled with the roars of the indignant, we must remember too that the European experiment we are currently in, which now creates perpetual and extensive political and social troubles, is on the cusp. At the cusp is a call for a new breed of solidarity, intersectional and deep, which integrates us into a European dialogue with the radical left seeking collapse and exit, which doesn’t leave this form of internationalism to the established archaic state-socialist left.
Most of the opportunities to come together in a concerted effort to seize an opportunity have been lost. We have instead seen a deepening divide, parties falling apart, many sinister coalitions cropping up. Our role as agitators for the abolition of domination is not to be trapped in the binaries of referendums. Not that we must disengage, but that the majority of our role is to do the work before, and especially after.
The EU is a monstrosity. Nationalism is a monstrosity. The anti-EU and pro-EU right-wing coalitions are both monstrosities. So it is us, the masses, who are left to do the building, the conscientization — because the referendum, the vote, the ballot, has never been the pivot of liberation.
This vote offers a mirror to the left. Look who is leading the remain camp: war hounds. Look who is leading the exit camp: war hounds. Now is the time for critical self-reflection: Where is our narrative? How do we insert it? The establishment gains traction whilst we fall by the wayside. Vote IN, vote OUT, or don’t vote at all — but more importantly vote yourself into a renewed responsibility to rally against Europe’s ruling classes, at home and abroad.
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/essays/brexit-eu-referendum-hokey-cokey/