Richard Seymour on Brexit

Richard SeymourThe racists have successfully articulated a broad anti-establishment sentiment — originating in class injuries, regional decline, postindustrial devastation, generational anxieties, etc — along bigoted, national chauvinist lines. The vote cannot be reduced to racism and nationalism — but that is the primary way in which it has been organised and recruited and directed, and that is the primary way in which the outcome will be experienced. That this was achieved so soon after the fascist murder of a center-left, pro-immigrant MP, is stunning in a way. It says something about the truculence of some of the chauvinism on display. It says something about the profound sense of loss which a reasserted “Britishness” is supposed to compensate for.

There is a lot of finger-wagging on Twitter and elsewhere about how the exit voters have just triggered economic self-destruction. House prices will fall, savings will be diminished, the pound will weaken, jobs will dry up. Well, that’s all true. Except. Not everyone benefits from the insane property market. Not everyone has savings. Not everyone benefits, as the City does, from a strong pound. Manufacturing has suffered from that priority. Large parts of the country have been hemorrhaging jobs for years. “The economy” is not a neutral terrain experienced by everyone in exactly the same way. And some of the votes, coming in core Labour areas, not necessarily strongly racist areas at first glance, indicate that. So people have voted against an economy that wasn’t working to their benefit. That doesn’t mean the practical alternative will not be worse. I suspect it will be a great deal worse.

—Richard Seymour
EU Referendum Vote

11 thoughts on “Richard Seymour on Brexit

  1. I cannot quite express how frustrating it is that very real anxiety, caused by neoliberalism, finds itself intertwined with bigotry more often than not. Workers know that they are getting shafted but decades of conditioning have taught them that blaming their bosses is unmanly and vaguely treasonous so they express their frustration through racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia.

    To make matters worse, the slightly neoliberal, center-left establishment takes full advantage and swoops in a claims that all robust economic populist must be inherently racist and sexist.

    In theory, it should be so darn easy to unite the workers of the World but it seems almost impossible in practice. If you have any doubts about that fact, talk to every pharmacy tech who makes $15.25 an hour what they think of a $15 an hour minimum wage. Folks love their parochialism, their petty advantages and their public and psychological wages way more than they want a good pension, a good wage and affordable healthcare, it would seem.

    • I share your frustration completely (and I’ve worked with snobby pharmacy techs!) I’d only disagree in that I don’t think it’s a manliness issue; I think it’s a self-preservation one. People see that the few successes out there were the biggest suckups to corporate power, so they think that’s how you can get a living wage. We don’t see many union victories anymore (not reported in the press, anyhow!)

    • That’s very true. The people most against raising the minimum wage are those who are just above it. So you would probably find even more resistance from one making $14.75, even though they would end up making more money.

      Yes, I thought that Seymour’s article was unusually calm — as though he’s gotten to the point of thinking it is hopeless. Hopelessness is not helpful — especially to a Marxist.

    • I’ve never successfully got all the way through Moby-Dick (though I have tried almost as often as I’ve tried to plough through Ulysses), but one passage has always stuck in my mind: the church service where the preacher climbs into his pulpit via a rope ladder and then pulls it up behind him. As a metaphor for human nature, that seems just about perfect.

      • The reason Ulysses is hard to read is because Joyce was a self-indulgent writer. He wrote to please himself without a thought for the reader. If you want to get through it, get it read on CD and read along with it. It will help a great deal — or so I am told by a good source. But under no circumstances should you ever even open up Finnegans Wake, which I think was Joyce’s big f-you to the literary community, “Oh, you liked my last book?! Here’s a book of word puzzles. Have fun for the next century!”

        Okay, Moby Dick. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Herman Melville wasn’t a very good writer. But you must read Moby Dick! It’s a great book. It’s where everything that was good about Melville comes together. It is the most idiosyncratic novel I’ve ever read. This is why it never works on screen. Unless you come away from the experience prepared to serve on a whaling ship, you’ve missed it all. But Melville didn’t mean to be difficult. Some are born to greatness. Some work to it. And others stumble into because they drank too much that night — again.

        But what really makes it hard is that his prose is so dense. It always was. That’s why he was never popular in his time. But his was a mind that is worth spending some time with.

        • There’s an NEA-sponsored audiobook project called The Big Read which recruits star actors and other luminaries to read a chapter each of a classic novel. I’d heard of it before, but the first time I actually checked it out was when I heard they’d done Moby-Dick. It is, actually, in my podcast queue even as we speak.

          • Excellent! That sounds great.

            On YouTube, there are people who will just sit in front of a camera and read whole novels aloud. It’s wonderful. Some of them are quite good. But great actors are, well, great actors.

  2. Racism has been an interfering problem with worker organization for over a century though and the UK still has a lot of problems with it.

      • I have a couple of books on southern politics from those days and it wasn’t the northern unions that were the problem. It was the South.

        • Quite. And since the north was much more industrialized with more powerful unions, I think we can say that unions were in general a force for good. Where the unions were a force for ill was over the Vietnam War. That was the problem. So it wasn’t about blacks; it was about hippies.

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