Looking (and thinking and acting) beyond Brexit

CURA’s Adam Fishwick offers his thoughts on Brexit, in response to Jonathan Davies’s previous post.

Brexit can only be understood as a victory for the Right. The Leave campaign was no anti-establishment revolt. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Ian Duncan Smith, Nigel Farage, Rupert Murdoch – for all their posturing in standing up to the bureaucrats in Brussels or confronting the entrenched political elites of Westminster, represent nothing more than a nastier, more virulent, more insidious strain of that which they outwardly claim to be confronting.

But there is an anger at the established political and economic forces that occupy the institutions that govern us. As stated by Jonathan Davies, the marginalisation, fragmentation, and ongoing immiseration of many in the UK (and across Europe) is the real issue facing us today – and it is here that there has been, and continues to be, a real revolt.

The Right have succeeded in making this into a narrow nationalist, anti-immigration, and oftentimes racist response to the deepening impact of neoliberal policies and practices that are the real cause of the vast inequities of wealth and power around us. Mobilising all too familiar tropes against those outside and appealing to a nationalist rhetoric that offers little of substance but harks back to a vague, semi-existent past has filled the symbolic gap left by the retreat of social democracy into the comforts of the political power and institutional prestige.

Worryingly we are already seeing the emboldening of the far Right through this discourse. Some of the early congratulations for Brexit came from Marie Le Pen, Geert Wilders, the AfD, and the Northern League and the recent presence of groups like Britain First in Leicester in the previous weeks show the comfort such groups have found in this campaign.

The answer to this, however, does not come from a decrying of the ‘false consciousness’ of the working class or to anger at their betrayal on the part of those supposed to represent an alternative vision that they have clearly long abandoned. In The Communist Hypothesis, Alain Badiou argues that such pronouncements provide an inadequate and counter-productive starting point for confronting the entrenched relations of power that have led us to this point and which are continuing to set the course as we begin to move beyond Brexit.

So, perhaps instead, it is time to embrace the emerging new contentious politics and to replicate a break with what Badiou called “the set of parliamentary political personnel that proclaim that they are the only ones equipped to bear the general consequences of a singular political movement” (149). And to do this there is a pressing need to articulate and begin to embody a vision beyond austerity and beyond neoliberalism, political forms that lie at the heart of the wider disenfranchisement and marginalisation seized upon by Brexit. From post-work utopias to horizontalist political spaces and experiments, some of the work in envisioning and constructing new political forms has been started already, but there remains much more to be done and a much longer struggle ahead.

Dr Adam Fishwick is Lecturer in Urban Studies and Public Policy and a member of Centre for Urban Research on Austerity at De Montfort University