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Brexit is the least problem for Labour and the European Left

Victor Cova

Platypus Review 123 | February 2020

THE RECENT AND PREDICTABLE CONSERVATIVE VICTORY in the UK General Elections has produced much outrage and wringing of hands on the European Left and abroad. They had hailed Corbyn as the promise of a return to working class politics, a chance to redeem the Labour Party from its recent Blairite past, and the man who would finally give a voice to the people. But the people decided to give its voice to a different man, and suddenly the working class is idiotic, racist, fascistic even. Because of them, a new Dark Age will fall upon Britain as it is sold for scraps to Boris's evil twin Donald. The same leftists who felt it was urgent to vote for Corbyn in order to save the suffering working class of Corbyn's campaign videos now calls a plague upon their houses and starts doubting the very value of democracy. Some voices call for a radical self-critique of Corbynism, while others think that now is the time for mourning and not for intellectualization.

It would be easier to sympathize with them if they did not disguise their self-interest behind a facade of sympathy for the poor. The people who most vehemently supported and voted for Corbyn, middle-class managers, professionals, academics and students, have all been hard hit by the past ten years. Their working conditions have worsened, whereas their salaries have barely increased and the cost of life has exploded. Their sudden sympathy for the working class probably came from a sense of increasing proletarianization. Whatever their good intentions and gestures of solidarity, they were not reciprocated. Many lifelong Labour voters, especially in the mining towns that were once a Labour stronghold, have cast their votes for the Conservative party. This should interrogate them. Instead, they retreat into the bad excuse that Social Democrats have peddled for the past few years: it's the fault of the media, neoliberalism, individualism, the Russians, the end of truth, and this weird beast — populism.

If they had paid attention to the profound transformations in the economy since 2008, and even more so since 2016, to the actions of these supposed mindless fascist monsters, Trump and Boris Johnson, and to the words of the few intellectuals that stand behind them, they would have noticed that there is less to fear for Britain than they imagined — and much more for their cherished parties and ideologies. First, those who wanted a soft Brexit and increased public investment should rejoice: This is precisely what BoJo will be able to do now that he has a strong majority, and something to which Corbyn could never have aspired. Many suspect the Conservatives do not really want to invest in infrastructure — perhaps, but they would be able to if they wanted. As Corbyn spent the past few years struggling to manage his own party, one fails to see how he could have achieved ambitious reforms with a hung parliament trying to renegotiate Brexit while still having to obey the EU's strict budgetary restrictions. The economy will also probably experience a little boom that may very well offset the negative effects of the implementation of Brexit — again, it's doubtful Corbyn could have inspired such confidence.

What’s more, we might even see policies of re-industrialization. A former Bank of England economist recently wrote an article for the Trumpist American Affairs journal, arguing that the Tories should use Brexit to implement importation substitution measures.[1] It is difficult not to see a parallel with the defeat of the left-wing coalitions which had promised a Green New Deal and a New Green Deal in the last EU elections, only to see a Christian Democrat EU President announce that she will carry it out. The Right is on the way to realizing what the Left had been promising.

Left-wing intellectuals in the UK and beyond believe that they are still living in neoliberalism. Their horror at Trump and Johnson has less to do with the return of fascism than with their bewilderment at the strange new world in which they find themselves. All they seem able to do is close their eyes, complain about the end of the world, and vilify their political adversaries and their voters. Their increasing hysteria is stopping them from assessing the situation and taking stock of their irrelevance. Far from a wake-up call, the defeat of Corbyn seems doomed to further accentuate the divisions within the European Left between Europhiles and Europhobes. The Left will not learn from this defeat, and it would not have learned from an unlikely victory. Among other things, this is only the last of a series of failed efforts by socialists to use the Labour Party, and it predictably ended like these previous attempts[2] — some within Momentum will join the ranks of Labour centrists, while most of the surge of Labour members will abandon politics forever, feeling embittered and betrayed. The Left's inability to learn is not new — Marx was criticizing it after the failure of the 1848 revolution and his work can be seen as an attempt to help the Left learn from its failures. To no avail? | P


[1] Jerome Douglas, “Rebuilding British Industry: A Plan for the Post-Brexit Economy,” American Affairs v. 3 n. 4 (Winter 2019). <https://americanaffairsjournal.org/2019/11/rebuilding-british-industry-a-plan-for-the-post-brexit-economy/>

[2] Efraim Carlebach, “’Last illusions’: The Labour Party and the Left,” PR 97. <https://platypus1917.org/2017/06/05/last-illusions-labour-party-left/>

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