As my housemate pointed out, we’ve never read the news so often as we have since Friday morning. I doubt we’re special, and am sure that engagement with public affairs has gone through the roof. Hell, “the system” has just imploded in front of our eyes. In the aftermath of Brexit, the libertarians have won, temporarily at least, there seems to be no state. It’s all very interesting, how I wish it was still boring.
Many things the so-called liberal left wanted happened this week: increased participation in public affairs, high voter turnout, a grassroots movement to drive political engagement. The only trouble is, this all happened for the wrong politics. And yes, I do mean wrong. We can no longer afford the indulgence to think all opinion is equal and that democracy is about whatever the people want. Leave was the wrong decision, this was all an entirely foreseeable mistake. In the unlikely event that the so-called Westminster elite manage to block this by whatever trickery they can find, it will be a good thing.
For me, the referendum has unearthed something that was best left alone. The politically disengaged have proven, contra Corbyn’s suggestion, not to be an untapped socialist electorate but fundamentally right wing. What we are left with is the crushing proof that democracy is no neutral virtue. I’ve believed this for quite a while, but having it demonstrated objectively by a referendum result is something else entirely.
No matter what happens, things have changed. The referendum result is an event (Ereignis) of consensus-shattering proportions. Battle lines have been redrawn. The very ground of political opinion has shifted. Even if Brexit does not happen (which it will), the British self-interpretation has changed for the foreseeable future. The idea that Britain is divided is not new, but the Bexit has crushed the myth it is geographically distributed. Some areas vote Labour, some Tory. But, there is no North-South divide when it comes to immigration, anti-establishmentarianism, anti-politics, anti-intellectualism, and nationalism. These structural elements of the Brexit vote are a textbook definition of fascism. Now that they’re all on the electoral roll, why wouldn’t they vote UKIP?
There’s a point in The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology where Žižek talks about dreaming the wrong dreams. I suspect he’s quoting something posh that I haven’t read: Shakespeare or something. The point being that if we act on the wrong ideals, we fail to solve the right problems. The vote for Corbyn, whose mandate I suspect has dissolved among the membership (it is odd to talk about a vote 9 months ago being authoritative when the vote four days ago has changed everything), was a vote for the wrong dreams.
It was not even really, authentically, a left wing vote. It was a vote of liberal character. We need to have someone in power who professes honest belief in the things he believes in. A new politics. Straight-talking, honest politics. Its platform was a tactical response to the rise of UKIP and Nigel Farage. It claimed the latters’ success was due to ordinary people’s disenchantment with a centrist politics that does not “speak to them”. But, it now seems that the real reason for the success of UKIP is that UKIP was successful. It was not filling a vacuum left by the failure of politics to matter to the individual, it was not only negatively successful for want of a genuine political alternative. It was successful in its own terms; it spoke to people
Careful what you wish for… Brexit Might Happen
When kippers said the reason they liked Farage was he was straight talking and honest, this was not true (a misrecognition). They liked Farage because he said things they agreed with. The British left, in turn, has fundamentally misrecognised the political character of its country. Britain is more right wing than we thought; the tactics of the left must respond to the insight into our material situation a result for Brexit has given.
This is what Labour are trying to do in what has become the painful and slow ousting of Corbyn post-Brexit. This could have been simple and painless, Corbyn’s refusal to leave with dignity has precluded any such thing. I voted for him. I believed that his proposal was worth a shot, that the other three candidates had no proposal at all. Posts on this blog speak to that. But, the referendum result is a fundamental refutation of Corbyn’s political analysis and he lacks the flexibility to carry on leading under another.
If being wrong on this point were the only problem, I would not regret giving him my vote. His refusal to resign, though, makes me regret it deeply. He is not the pragmatist or labour loyalist I hoped for. Given his rebellious past, I was a moron to hope for anything else. But, I and everyone else who voted Corbyn need to take responsibility for the damage his delay is causing.