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Referendum Remorse

by Adam David Morton on June 25, 2016

The EU referendum in Britain has created remorse for us all. With all the vitriol unfolding over the Brexit result, people close to me have been prodding with a pointy finger to make my own stance clear. This, to me, was a surprise.

In the buildup, I did not campaign on the referendum to articulate a clear view point, blog about it, articulate a position, or persuade people to vote one way or another. Like many others, my viewpoint was an undecided one for a long time. The obstacle of distance from the intuitive politics of everyday life in Britain also made a quick and easy decision more difficult. But my vote (that was cast over two weeks ago because of the strictures of a postal ballot) was eventually cast on the leave side. Why?

I have seen my own hometown community ripped apart by decades of neoliberal austerity. I come from Stoke-on-Trent. The diverse working class from that area has been devastated by an attack on the industrial staples of mining, steel, and manufacturing. Visiting once vibrant economic mining towns and communities there, today, is a chastening experience. Directly attacked by the policies of Thatcherism it is communities like this that have been abandoned by the centre-right politics of Blairism. Rather than the Labour Party engage a politics of social democratic left-internationalism and the ethnic diversity of Britain’s working class, policies instead pursued a furtherance of possessive individualism, the vilification of people suffering from impoverishment, and an ever more frenzied search to increase personal wealth. The Blair family property empire of £27 million says it all. Out of that vacuum there has been a waxing and waning of support for far-right parties, notably in those communities like Stoke-on-Trent or across large swathes of England abandoned to socio-economic decline.

With the financial crisis of 2007-8 and austerity beginning to bite from 2010 onwards under a government led by the Bullingdon Club one could see basic services and infrastructure across England and Wales being repealed: young parents losing crèche services, the neglect of the elderly, the withdrawal of care for those with mental illness, the disregard for the homeless, library facilities closing, youth unemployment increasing, and food banks spreading while the City of London and the privileged across swathes of the south-east of England continued with the avaricious policies of greed. Twenty years ago there was much academic and wider debate about the “social content” of Europe, revolving around a social model of capitalism, but that has been eroded by neoliberal Europe with its imposition of disciplinary neoliberalism across the region, not the least concerning Greece. So the EU referendum—born from an internal party dispute—marked a line in the sand, an opportunity to cast a vote to shape a new conjuncture: to contest neoliberal Britain within a neoliberal Europe.

That involves envisaging a renewed contest of politics at the state scale, with the aim of revitalising communities against the fear-mongering anti-immigrant parties of the far-right. It means seeing state formation as an ongoing process rather than fixed in time. It means a struggle against racism and anti-immigration. It means rejecting the notion that Brexit will automatically result in the spread of virulent racist politics across the country, which is a determinism of the worst kind. This is the fight against austerity, racism, nationalism and xenophobia, and it is a class struggle. My stance is a minority one. It has been ridiculed by people close to me. The referendum was always going to create remorse for us all given that there was no popular call for it. But those true friends, especially my numerous non-British European and non-European colleagues living in Britain, as well as those from the country itself, will hopefully realise that building left internationalist forces within, against and beyond the state has always been and still is the key.

Adam David Morton
Adam David Morton is Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney. He is author of Unravelling Gramsci: Hegemony and Passive Revolution in the Global Political Economy (2007); Revolution and State in Modern Mexico: The Political Economy of Uneven Development (2011), recipient of the 2012 Book Prize of the British International Studies Association (BISA) International Political Economy Group (IPEG); and co-author of Global Capitalism, Global War, Global Crisis (2018) with Andreas Bieler. He co-edits Progress in Political Economy (PPE) with Gareth Bryant that was the recipient of the 2017 International Studies Association (ISA) Online Media Caucus Award for the Best Blog (Group) and the 2018 International Studies Association (ISA) Online Media Caucus Award for Special Achievement in International Studies Online Media.
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  • Glenys Kendrick
    June 26, 2016 at 2:25 am

    Thank you. I needed an intelligent reason for leaving after all the lies, spite, racism and general nastiness of the last two days. This has given me something to think about while worrying about how it’s all going to work. It makes me think maybe, just maybe, it’s for the best.

  • Ross
    June 26, 2016 at 5:53 am

    Great article.

  • Chik Collins
    June 28, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks for a sane and intelligent analysis, Adam. There are real possibilities for progressive change in the current context. They are clearly perceived by the forces of neoliberalism – in both the Conservative Party and Labour Party, and also in the media. Thus the panic to oust Corbyn. But while this is happening many of the alleged progressives seem psychologically invested in the anticipation of doom and ultra-right government, and are attacking Corbyn for failing to be passionate in campaigning for the politics (and economics) of the status quo.

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