DAY 177: And still it comes

July 4th, 2016 § 0 comments

This has got to be the most 800px-Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder_-_Dulle_Griet_(Mad_Meg)_-_WGA03400

Dulle Griet (Mad Meg), Pieter Bruegel the Elder

momentous, nay ridiculous day in my life if not the life of British politics if we can still dignify it by such a name. So here’s ‘Mad Meg’; an allegory for the day, for the week. She has been variously interpreted as a symbol of heresy or violence, the personification of human evil and an allegory of instability. Recently it was proposed that Meg symbolizes Madness, a vice taken in the 16th century to include insanity, rage, gluttony, lust, avarice and ambition, and that the giant figure in the centre of the painting is an allegory of Folly.

In any case, to round up the so-called news, Brexit won, the leading pro-Brexit figures resigned, so (today) did Nigel Farage url
if you can call him a leading anything. Is there anyone left on the field who is not a corpse? It reminds one of Hamlet. My main hope is that the dead appear to be all white male heterosexuals, so that the field is open for my friends the brown and black LGBTs to take control of politics and turn the next Queen’s speech into a giant Pride march. I just ask that the refugees should be included, since it was their presence on centre stage
which triggered this whole mish-mash. And, I suppose, that the borders should be opened and the border guards moved into jobs in the NHS where they are really required. And then we’d finally begin to have a green and pleasant land in which things  began to work
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and Jerusalem was finally builded and there were no dark satanic mills. As Albany says at the end of King Lear (and I apply the words to myself)

The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

What here is the distinction between ‘what we feel’ and ‘what we ought to say’? Being among the oldest, I’ve probably borne a fair amount – although I’m still up for more experience if you’d like to offer it me. And, as I’ve been saying increasingly over the last ten days, I wouldn’t describe the time in which we find ourselves as sad so much as farcical. Or desperate.

Borrowing from the popular newssheet RS21 (extracts of) a lengthy analysis of the situation, I’d say:

Ideas around migration have long been the “acceptable” face of racism. Even the majority of remain voters will accept that some form of immigration control is necessary. Support for the freedom of movement that exists within the EU was never won with the general public and has been under consistent attack by the right-wing press since the accession of the Eastern European member states. The leave campaign exploited this fact to build a popular base and in doing so whipped up racism on the ground. Far from challenging it, senior figures in Remain attacked Vote Leave’s ability to bring down immigration levels and sought to reassure the “legitimate concerns” of voters. In doing so they contributed to pulling politics to the right. The radical left was too weak, and too focused on campaigning for Lexit or Remain, to stress the economic causes of the pain
Screen shot 2016-07-04 at 21.31.53

neoliberalism had inflicted and to and pose anti-racist solutions that stepped beyond the bounds of the referendum. In focusing on EU reform, large sections of the anti-racist left posed membership of the remote and unaccountable EU as a solution to the problems working class communities faced. In doing so Remain conceded ground to Vote Leave’s “take control” message that resonated with people’s distrust of a political establishment that had overseen decades of underinvestment. This does not mean that 52% of the working class has become racist overnight but that discontent with the status quo was successfully funnelled in a racist direction. The referendum will leave a racist scar on British politics for some time and has given confidence to the most reactionary voices in society. How long that will last is yet to be seen. A deeper analysis of the vote will undoubtedly show that people’s reasons for voting were complex and contradictory. The contradictory nature of people’s motivations means that both leave and remain voters can be engaged by future campaigns in solidarity with migrants and broader in broader anti-austerity struggles. Many who voted for greater immigration controls on the 23rd could be won to campaigns to stand in solidarity with migrants or against austerity alongside migrant workers in future.

What about the EU?

The impact of the Brexit vote was incredibly damaging for the European Union as a political project. An exit vote by the second largest economy in the Union has sent shock waves through the European Establishment who have reacted with disbelief. EU leaders are divided over what to do next and it is impossible to judge what the consequences of the crisis will be or what forces will ultimately be able to take advantage. A few days after the vote it seems that the immediate beneficiaries are the forces of the nationalist right, who already had a Eurosceptic support base, rather than the anti-capitalist left and social movements. It is also unclear what effect it will have on European border controls, or the Eurozone, if the Brexit vote triggers other referendums within other member states. Although it seems unbelievable an exit vote on this basis will weaken support for cooperation over Frontex, Europe’s border agency.

The gamble behind many Lexit comrades’ positions, that a crisis opens opportunities, for the left across Europe currently seems to be misguided at best. Notions of “political rupture” have always included an analysis of political interpretation and working class agency, and the Brexit vote is likely to be interpreted by the majority of working class militants as a nationalistic blow from the right against the EU. Whether that is outweighed by an increased space for social movements in the poorer European states against a weakened EU in future remains to be seen, but it seems a risky gamble.

Where next?

The left needs where possible to keep our heads and negotiate the difficult task of building a grassroots anti-racist movement. Doing so means tackling the difficult question of what is driving racist attitudes and avoiding counterfactual politics: It is deeply unlikely that a victory for remain would have prevented the racism stirred up by the referendum or protected migrant rights, given the record of remain advocates around Cameron on pandering to anti-immigration sentiments. The left should shed no tears over the fate of the EU – an institution we should instinctively oppose. Neither should we accept that that we can’t fight to make sure we don’t pay for the economic crisis. But we have to accept that the referendum damaged our side—dividing workers who see themselves as “British” against migrant workers—as much as it damaged our ruling class. It is fighting for solidarity to repair that damage that has to be our immediate task.

Whatever the result, we were going to be faced with the need to build anti-racist alliances and the difficult task of rebuilding an anti-capitalist left. As well as resisting racism and defending Corbyn against the right we need to keep alive the belief in our collective ability to reshape the future.

Or the past? Here’s Nas telling it backwards  in ‘Rewind‘. Would you like to do that, with these last few days?

 

 

 

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