Brexit is symptomatic of a historic point of disruption, a time of great promise and great peril. The stalled engine of neoliberal growth, bankrupted political leadership and an increasing sense of distributive injustice are the cracks out of which something new might yet emerge.
For over 30 years in the UK, “capitalism [has] seamlessly occupied the horizon of the thinkable,” as Mark Fischer put it. We have acknowledged the historic defeat of the Old Left. Little has emerged beyond a reflexive impotence and de facto capitulation to neoliberal hegemony. We’ve watched the neoliberal project consolidate, wreaking social damage and increasing alienation.
Of course, the 2008 crisis changed the terms of reference dramatically. Austerity has further strained acceptance of the post-democratic neoliberal world. So much so that the struggle to use that crisis to entrench the power of the 1% may turn out to be neoliberalism’s end game – an end game it is losing. What comes next?
Brexit suggests that the Right has positioned itself best to mobilise the discontent that is basic to this point of disruption. There is nothing new about warning of the ever present danger of fascism beneath the dysfunctional surface of liberal democracy. The social damage and post-democratic aspects of neoliberalism simply ratchets up its probability.
In Spain, and other places, this point of disruption has given rise to some fresh and exploratory political organising. In England meanwhile, exorcising Labour’s decades of betrayal seems to be the best that can be imagined. That may appease the conscience of some, but I worry this retrofit politics lacks the freshness required to meet the current opportunities or to guard against the dangers.
At this moment, in which “the old is dying and the new cannot yet be born,” can we midwife the new? Can we envision a fresh and responsive politics capable of healing the wounds of the last 30 years? Can we articulate the kind of transversality required for systemic transformation? Hard as it sounds, Brexit should awaken us to the urgency of resurrecting the big questions, and once again contesting our future.
In the aftermath of the historic British vote to leave the EU, openDemocracy is asking for our readers' thoughts on Brexit and what needs to happen next in 350 words. We've had an extraordinary response and you can read them all here.