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Brexit Reveals Jeremy Corbyn to be the True Moderate

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Because the zealots of the right and the immoderate centre dominate the political and media landscape, this approach has barely registered in public debates. Corbyn's efforts have been misrepresented as evidence of muddled thinking, ambivalence, or his covert opposition to Europe. It is none of those things.

Caught in the spider's web

The common argument that Corbyn is a Brexit wolf in sheep's clothing draws on the fact that, like many democratic socialists, such as the late Tony Benn, Corbyn has never been enamoured of the unelected European technocratic class that is misleadingly termed simply "Europe" or the "European Union".

Rightly, socialists understood long ago that the more Britain was locked into Europe's embrace, the more it would become caught like a fly in the spider's web. At some level, most people have started to recognise this, if only because finding a way to leave Europe, even for Brexiters, has proved so inordinately difficult.

Just like banks were too big to fail in 2008 so they had to be bailed out with our, public money to save them from their private malfeasance, the publics of Europe have incrementally had their sovereignty transferred to an unelected and centralised bureacracy all in the name of pursuing freedom of movement and trade, chiefly for global corporations.

We haven't noticed, it is true, because for decades our own, domestic politics has come in one flavour only support for our little corner of the global neoliberal empire. Till recently the consensus of Britain's ruling elite, whether of the right or of New Labour centrists, was that being a player in Europe was the best way to protect their though not necessarily our interests on that global battlefield. Now, as the neoliberal empire enters a period of terminal decline, this same elite are bitterly divided over whether the US or Europe is the best guarantor of their wealth and influence continuing a little longer.

Iron fist in velvet glove

But Britain and the world's problems whether in the shape of impending economic meltdown or environmental collapse cannot be solved from within the neoliberal paradigm, as becomes clearer by the day. New political structures are desperately needed: at the local level to foster new, more decentralised economic models, free of corporate influence, resource-stripping and unnecessary consumption; and at the global level to ensure that such models reverse rather than perpetuate the ecocidal policies that have dominated under neoliberal capitalism.

To start on that path will require the democratisation of Britain. The fear of Benn and others was that even if a truly socialist government was elected, its ability to make real, profound changes to the political and economic order by bringing much of the economy back into public or cooperative ownership, for example would be made impossible within the larger framework of European corporate managerialism.

We have been given glimpses of the iron fist Europe's technocrats wield beneath the velvet glove in the treatment of Greece over its financial troubles and the Catalan independence movement in Spain.

The attitude of Corbyn and other democratic socialists to Brexit, however, has been wildly misrepresented by the other two camps of zealots.

In Benn's time, it was still possible to imagine a world in which neoliberalism might be prevented from gaining a tyrannical grip on our political imaginations and on national economies. But things have changed since then. Now the issue is not whether Britain can stop being locked into a European neoliberal order. It is that the UK, like everyone else, is already in the stranglehold of a global neoliberal order.

Not just that, but Britain has willingly submitted to that order. As the zealotry of most of the political class demonstrates, few can imagine or want a life outside the neoliberal cage. The debate is about which corner of that suicidal, ecocidal global order we prefer to be located in. The Brexit row is chiefly about which slavemaster, America or Europe, will be kinder to us.

Inside the leviathan's dark belly

In this context, there is no real escape. The best that can be done, as the moderates in both the Brexit and Remain camps realise, is loosen our chains enough so that we have room once again to contemplate new political possibilities. We can then breathe deeply, clear our heads and start to imagine how Britain and the the world might operate differently, how we might free ourselves of the tyranny of the corporations and heal our planet of the deep scars we have inflicted on it.

These are big matters that cannot be solved either by binding ourselves more tightly to European technocrats or by cutting loose from Europe only to chain ourselves to the US. The Brexit feud is an endless theatrical distraction from the real questions we need to face. That is one reason why it drags on, one reason why our political class revel in it, John Bercow-style.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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