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Alberto Toscano: Living in the Time(s) of Brexit


At the blog of the Canada-based Social Justice Center, Alberto Toscano, a sociologist and theorist at Goldsmiths in London, reflects on the multiple and conflicting temporalities at play in the UK’s never-ending Brexit crisis. As Toscano writes, this protracted drama involves the varied temporarilities of nations, of capital and class, of race and identity – all flowing together to produce wildly divergent understandings of what exactly is at stake in Brexit. Check out an excerpt from the piece below.

Deal or no deal, it is evident that the political and social crisis crystallising around Brexit is not going to be resolved – whether in a palliative or catastrophic manner – precisely because it is not one crisis but many (or, perhaps more accurately, many-in-one), all of which have their own rhythms, their own temporalities, which seem to evade any synchronisation. It is one of the lasting discoveries of critical theories and anthropologies that human beings live in a multiplicity of uneven, and sometimes incompatible, times. Writing in the 1930s, the German philosopher Ernst Bloch, talked of the non-contemporaneity of the contemporaneous, and of the emergence of ‘non-synchronous people’, to grasp how the German petty-bourgeoisie could simultaneously inhabit a technologically complex capitalist society and entertain racial fantasies and feudal dreams (as he quipped: ‘Peasants sometimes still believe in witches and exorcists, but not nearly as frequently and as strongly as a large class of urbanites believe in ghostly Jews and the new Baldur’). Notwithstanding its reputation for phlegmatic empiricism, its self-image as averse to the violent enthusiasms and fanatical beliefs raging across the Channel (or the Eurotunnel), the United Kingdom – but especially England – is a deeply non-synchronous place. Living in an old country – to borrow the title of an insightful book about struggles over the nation’s past – also means living in a place with a lot of unfinished, or unfinishable, business.

Image via NBC News.


Marx explains that the garbage of the old feudal system continues to befoul the rule of the bourgeoisie, and that is certainly the case with Brexit with all the forelock-tugging and obsequiousness going on about the role of the Queen and whether she was misled by UK PM Boris Johnson. In the UK, along with the dictatorial control over society exerted by the billionaire class through the corruption of officials and parliamentarians and the fact that all key decisions in commerce are made by the heads of banks (in other words, bourgeois “democracy” is the hidden dictatorship of the bourgeoisie), there is the added “feudal” safety-control that the UK armed forces, cops and secret police all swear loyalty to the Crown. A handy trick for the mega-rich in any future civil conflict. Also stinking up the issue is the foul, zombie-like presence of the dead but not buried British Empire, whose “master race” colonial attitudes still infect the country, especially the Labour party and trade unions. Corbynism is so far removed from anything genuinely left-wing that it is opportunistically half-heartedly for Brexit, while the overall party sits on the fence. But Brexit is the strategy of the British ruling class, which - though split on the issue - plumped for it out of fear of Trump’s US Empire gunning for the EU in the sharpening trade war. Brexit has the added advantage for the bourgeoisie of stoking up backward racism and national chauvinism. But the Remain in the EU position is equally useless for workers because it is middle-class complacency which counts on British imperialism and its share of EU “master”-European-race exploitation of the Third World keeping UK businesses above water in the slump. Both Brexit and Leave are utterly deluded, and no genuine socialist should side with any capitalist trade-war bloc. It is analogous to the outbreak of the first world war, when the world’s socialist parties all betrayed workers to the defence of the fatherland, and only Lenin’s Bolsheviks and two other small parties had the Marxist ability to urge defeat for their “own” sides in the inter-imperialist carnage, the only correct position. Finally, it should be said that deepening global economic “over-production” crisis will blow all the Brexit and Leave delusions to smithereens.