One thing I am absolutely sick of in British politics is the fact so much of the conversation as regards Brexit is this idea that we should be trying to find a deal capable of “uniting the country”. Not, you know, a deal that would best serve the interests of the working class, or a deal that would be best suited to the long term stability of the country. You know, something concrete that you can stand for. No. Just a deal capable of uniting two political tribes that have no business being on the same side as each other! We who want the British proletariat to be emancipated from ambitions of the supra-national capitalist wannabe empire known as the European Union have no common cause with those who believe that we should stay in the European Union, and yet we are repeatedly told about how important it is that we should be united. And I find this especially galling after, three years ago, the Remain faction did nothing but weaponize bourgeois antipathy towards the working class, in some cases peppered with a dash of anti-white sentiment along the way, thus themselves contributing to the inevitable division of the country. What a load of crap!
This paltry rhetoric of uniting the country in my view is another iteration of what American leftists would recognize, and criticize, as civility politics, meaning of course the self-serving and liturgical obsession with some abstract notion of “civility” — this idea that we can freely disagree with each other in politics but only under the proviso that we do so without any passionate. It is at the heart of the liberal, “centrist” objection to right-wing politicians like Donald Trump and his school conservative “populism” as well as to social democrats like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others. In fact, it’s when social democrats tell their opponents to fuck off (almost literally in some cases) that conservatives in particular, even the most vulgar boomers of Trump’s fanbase who probably couldn’t care less about civility in their rhetoric and comportment, screech about civility the most. In America in particular, we see the device of “civility” or “unity” manifest itself not as a meaningful point of political discourse, but as a transparent means of leveraging neoliberal hegemony, a kind of soft power if you will.
Beyond that, however, the religious believers in unity and bi-partisanship that comprise the neoliberal elite do so in ignorance of a fairly basic reality of democratic politics: at the center of democratic politics, as in life, is struggle, and thus one of the first things that makes any real social or political struggle make sense is not broad unity but rather broad division and contradiction. The reason we see broad scale political division in the wake of phenomenon such as Brexit, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, or in the US the election of Donald Trump is because, in all such cases, it presents a rare moment wherein the public are actually given something of a broader choice than just different variations of the same flavour of the post-Margaret Thatcher status quo that the liberals of today are ultimately indebted to. And, of course, the neoliberal establishment doesn’t like that. They don’t like the thought that half the country or more might actually oppose them and present a credible threat to their program either in the ballot box or through broader mass action. So they pine for the days of about 10 or 20 years ago back when most people didn’t really oppose neoliberal capitalism either because they tacitly supported it or because they didn’t really care. That’s the unity neoliberals want. The unthinking agreement of sheep to a system run by wolves.
Sadly, however, the fetish of broad political unity is not limited to the liberal establishment. As a matter of fact, the cudgle of “party unity” is arguably the only reason Jeremy Corbyn has for his murky, indecisive stance on Brexit. He has a noted history of supporting Brexit during his more radical past, which is consistent with the broad trend of left-wing Euroscepticism that once blossomed during the 1980s and with the way the left in general should be approaching the Brexit issue, and would if it weren’t for their myopic fear of “appeasing” the right. Despite this, he can never be forthright about this stance in the present day because of the fact that much of the Labour Party, both its Blairite and Corbynite faction, are invested in the idea of nullifying our decision to leave the European Union entirely. And, sadly, Corbyn seems quite taken with this desire to preserve the broad tent — if he wasn’t, the Blairites would have been out of the party long before Chuka Umunna and his merry men decided to form Change UK, that odious exercise of hypocrisy and chauvinism disguising itself as reason and progress.
More broadly, however, here on the left there still remains the idea that all of the broad tendencies that comprise it — socialism, communism, social democracy (not the liberal brands of it), anarchism etc. — can all somehow be united under a broad aegis of political action aimed at bringing about socialism in our lifetimes. The immediate problem with such a fantasy is that, while the right-wing is more than capable of marshalling a united front when necessity demands it, the left-wing is incapable of such unity even as we face what is currently the greatest existential crisis to befall the human species and an ever-shrinking window of time before the bourgeoisie consolidate find a way of almost permanently consolidating their power through a new generation of AI-powered death machines. If we had any working praxis of cross-tendency left-wing collaboration (or left-unity), we would be far closer to the manifestation of socialism in the Western world than we are now. Hell, just to underscore the utter delusion of left-unity, know that not even unity among Marxist tendencies alone is possible. If it were, we would have so many useless Marxist-Leninist splinter parties running all over the place divided among themselves for no salient reason, and we would not have lost the Democratic Republic of Georgia to the jealous wrath of Lenin’s Bolshevism.
Of course, that old trope of left unity is not the only way this fetish manifests itself. Some progressives, like Jimmy Dore, Chris Hedges and Caitlin Johnstone, fantasize about the idea that the left and the right can unite on a set of issues that they all agree on: chiefly, the failures of neoliberalism, their shared marginalization by the status quo and opposition to US imperialism. This is a delusion that Alexander Cockburn, the British left-wing journalist who helped get CounterPunch started, also expounded in his writings during the 1990s and the 2000s. Well, there was a time when the left and the right actually did come together to form a movement against the status quo. It was called the Iranian Revolution. The Iranian left collaborated with Islamist reactionaries in order to overthrow the Shah from power. What followed this was the inevitable schism over who should actually run the country, which ended with the suppression of left-wing movements by the Islamist reactionaries on the grounds that they were compromised by Western ideals. The left — whether you are talking about socialists, communists, anarchists or even social democrats and progressives if you deign to include them here — has no common cause with reactionaries of any stripe in the realm of serious political action, and as such they have no business forming a coalition with them. Those of who forget are destined to pay the price for it later on, when the time comes to actually consolidate a new revolutionary order.
As a result of these facts, I look upon liberal and leftist alike who maintain that we should strive for some kind of fantastical cross-ideological unity as delusional, and I hold liberals who hold some false unity on a pedestal with contempt. The liberals who hold to this fantasy simply want to keep us in a state of sheepish conformity to the establishment while the leftist who hold it don’t realize that their efforts will, in the worst case scenario, get us all suppressed or even killed if we find ourselves dumb enough to fall for the promise of left-right unity.