The aftermath of the Brexit vote has certainly been upsetting and ugly in many ways, so it’s understandable that some people have taken comfort from the recent High Court judgement that put an extra obstacle in the path to Article 50. But while this reaction may be understandable, it’s also misguided, and potentially quite dangerous.
The reasons why people voted Leave are many, varied, and complex, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just pick out one common “bad” reason – dislike of migrants – and a prominent “good” one – resentment of the power held by undemocratic, unaccountable, bureaucratic institutions. These motivations can be picked apart, and we should try as hard as possible to separate them, because the more closely they become tied together in equations like “resentment of the power held by distant, unaccountable elites = voting Leave = hating migrants”, the more dangerous the situation becomes.
To state what should be blindingly obvious: the High Court judgement, and the results of any subsequent parliamentary vote, will do nothing to make the vicious racists who went on the offensive after the Leave result any less racist, or any less dangerous. As for those who might not be committed ideological racists, but see the EU as an out-of-touch, elite institution propped up by undemocratic structures: does anyone really think that the prospect of a popular referendum result being overturned by the combined will of parliament and some judges is going to make them change their minds?
If “solidarity with migrants” becomes identified with the position of celebrating the high court’s decision, and saying that votes taken by a few hundred rich people in Parliament should be able to override mass popular votes taken by millions and millions of people, then we head even further down the path of a very dangerous polarisation, one that shuts out even the possibility of an anti-establishment, anti-racist politics. What we need urgently is a form of politics that can support the rights of ordinary people to have their voices heard and challenge powerful elite institutions, and to support the rights of people to live where they want without harassment, at the same time.
A recent CrimethInc text compared the current situation in the US with recent events in Brazil, and came up with some important warnings that apply to us too, especially to those who identify with the Remain camp, and might be tempted to praise the courts or “parliamentary sovereignty”:
“if the left doesn’t rise in revolt, the right will. Outraged at the prevailing political class, Donald Trump’s constituency seems primed to reject the legitimacy of the electoral process. Mind you, they’re not calling for a black bloc at the inauguration or marching around with a banner reading “WHOEVER THEY VOTE FOR, WE ARE UNGOVERNABLE” yet, but if things continue in this direction, renegade Republicans will be understood as the chief adversaries of the ruling order…
…the most significant danger is that the entire political spectrum will be divided up between a statist neoliberal left and an opportunistically antigovernment nationalist right. Each of these adversaries needs the other; each will seek to absorb those who fall outside this dichotomy or else push them into the opposing camp.
If we don’t want to be marginalized the way our comrades in Brazil have been, we have to debunk the idea that either nationalism or the state could solve any of our problems, and organize to take on both the authorities and their reactionary opposition. This means breaking with the narratives of the left as well as the right. Otherwise, as the Clinton administration inevitably fails to resolve the economic crises of everyday life, more and more ordinary people will run into the arms of the reactionaries—and as these reactionary movements gain steam, the people who should be our comrades will respond in ways that shore up neoliberal democracy. There has to be another way.
If it becomes impossible to talk about how the system is rigged or how the corporate media is implicated without advancing the discourse of the far-right—if NSA surveillance, drones, international finance, corporate profiteering, and the subtle control exercised by social media algorithms become understood as right-wing issues—then all prospects of real liberation will be off the table for another generation or more. Today, even Wikileaks is bolstering right-wing narratives; grassroots outrage is assuming the form of reactionary populism. Anarchists and other partisans of liberation will be sidelined by the popular appropriation of our own tactics and slogans unless we get our bearings quickly.
We have our work cut out for us.”