The presses roll fast when there are no presses to roll. On June 23, Britons voted on the referendum to leave or remain in the European Union; the next day, the result was announced: leave; and less than three weeks later, Verso published this free eBook of responses, most of them well worth pondering. From a US viewpoint — and for a few of the commentators here — it’s impossible not have the Trump phenomenon in mind when considering the ambiguities of the Brexit vote. Each involves this quandary: Is it primarily a class revolt, or a racial one? Although both aspects must somehow be involved, it’s hard to articulate them in tandem. Here, while Laleh Khalili reasonably asserts that “class politics are always articulated through a politics of race,” it’s clear enough that for her, race politics were the real driver of the Brexit vote. If William Davies acknowledges the significance of race —specifically considering the Brexit/Trump parallelism — his analysis puts the accent on class. More of the contributors to this collection are with Khalili rather than Davies — and I have to make special mention of Akwugo Emejulu’s searing essay “On the Hideous Whiteness of Brexit” — but I’m not entirely convinced. Still, I’m even less persuaded by Stathis Kouvelakis when he claims that “the worst thing the Left could do to confront the Right’s hegemony is conform to the narrative that Brexit’s success is a racist outburst from the depths of Britain’s psyche.” Conform away, say I! Psychoanalytical terminology seems entirely in order. As the editors of the sharp new British magazine Salvage say, “All politics involve the death-drive,” and I suspect that Davies puts his finger on something crucial in suspecting that, “on some unconscious level […] the self-harm inflicted by Brexit could potentially be part of its appeal.” As the Salvage editors put it, more dramatically, Brexit shows a nation “accelerating toward a thanatocracy with strikingly little friction slowing it down.” Voting for Brexit, like voting for Trump, may follow an essentially nihilistic impulse—something like the urge to see a car crash or a house on fire, even from inside. And because such impulses are unspeakable, we could still be as surprised by Trump as many of us were by Brexit. Our one hope may lie in the fact — I think it’s a fact — that the present-day Democratic party is not quite the disaster-on-wheels that is the “deeply stupid” (the italics are Sam Kriss’s) parliamentary Labour Party—that is, Labour’s MPs, who chose exactly the moment of Brexit to throw their party into major disarray, apparently just in order to ensure that nothing be done to reverse the tide toward “leave.” As dismayed as I am by this summer’s events in the UK, I am intrigued by Kouvelakis’s proposal of a “Plan B,” the idea that the continental Left should now demand the abrogation of all existing EU treaties with the aim of reconstructing “a genuinely new Europe” with “an anti-austerity, ‘eco-socialist’ program.” Where do I sign up?
The Brexit Crisis: A Verso Report (2016) is published by Verso.