Today, we are launching Transforming Britain After Brexit, a national Brexit tour. The tour is organised by Labour Leave, Trade Unionists Against the EU, the European Research Network on Social and Economic Policy, Polity Books, and The Full Brexit and includes dates in Coventry (4th), Manchester (5th), Liverpool (8th), London (25th), and Durham (28th).
Our aim with the tour is to promote arguments critical to the EU from a Left perspective that we feel have not been put forward enough in the British media. Economist and former Syriza member Professor Costas Lapavitsas is a key speaker at each event, and will be discussing his book The Left Case Against the EU.
While Brexit will of course be a major focus of the events, we’re also hoping to link arguments over Brexit to ones about the necessity of a deeper democratic renewal of British politics. Therefore, everyone who cares about the future of Britain - Right or Left, Remain or Leave - is very welcome at the talks. Artists and writers in particular are encouraged to come along or to watch a video of the event (which will be posted afterwards on The Full Brexit’s Facebook page). We hope everyone who comes will leave with a sense of the democratic possibilities and challenges that Brexit and our contemporary political moment offer.
As an artist of sorts - a writer and a podcaster - Brexit as a political issue has really made me think about the political context in which we produce art, and how it might influence what is made. I think that Brexit (along with the election of Trump in 2016) represents the ending of the political era in which I was socialised, which Mark Fisher called “capitalist realism”. During this time it was, as Fredric Jameson put it, “easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism”. In 2016, though, we saw two events that finally ended the period marked by Thatcher’s doctrine that “there is no alternative” (although of course the challenge still remains to make the new alternatives on offer more democratic and progressive than the past). While the political context never wholly determines the content of art, we might have reason to think that the breaking of the political deadlock of the capitalist realist age offers new artistic, as well as democratic, possibilities. If we are coming to a place where we can again more easily imagine the end of capitalism, it opens up a whole range of creative positions and possibilities.
At the same time, Brexit has made it clear that a number of supposedly progressive people (including artists and cultural figures of all types) in fact hold an extremely negative view of their fellow citizens. They see (especially working class) people as duped by numbers on the side of a bus, or by Russian bots, and as deeply xenophobic, nationalistic, racist, and small-minded. Whatever your political persuasion, holding this view of your compatriots and of the audience for your work is a political and artistic dead end. It sees others as unable critically to engage with political or aesthetic ideas, and treats an audience with disdain or smug condescension. If people are seen in this way, the value of challenging art is seriously lessened, as the audience is assumed to be unable to process difficult and complex ideas.
Brexit in and of itself does not, of course, offer a straightforward path to progressive politics or artistic production. But to the extent that it can be part of a movement that aims at a genuine democratic renewal of British politics and society, it is something that any artist can, and should, look to defend.
George Hoare is one of the hosts of Aufhebunga Bunga, a global politics podcast and is a member of The Full Brexit.