[Discussion Article] On the Perils of Populism: Brexit, the Left and the EU

David Black

Summary: This article is based on a presentation for the 2016 convention of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization on Philosophic Perspectives on Anti-Capitalism  – Editors

The European Union — a Soured Dream?

As a Leave voter in the 24 June 2016 Referendum on British membership of the European Union I should own up that fifteen years ago I helped write an editorial for the British Marxist-Humanist magazine, The Hobgoblin, on developments in the European Union, entitled ‘Staying out of the Swamp’. By ‘swamp’ we didn’t mean ‘Europe’, but the camp of the ‘Eurosceptic’ nationalists, on both the Left and the Right. We quoted Raya Dunayevskaya’s observation from 1961 on the British Left’s hostile stance to the European Common Market: that the ideal of British ‘independence’ is reactionary if ‘that independence is the insularity that has kept not only capitalistic Britain but labor Britain as “exceptional” and therefore not integral to the European mass movement.’[1]

The question in the year 2000 was whether or not the historic process of European integration could create the potential for a more universalised struggle of organised European labour? We wrote:

’Whilst we must defend and extend every aspect of freedom and democracy as the European rulers construct their Union, we should not become embroiled in capitalist games. The current situation demands regroupment of Marxists who will not divide theory from practice, philosophy from revolution and use the idea of a united Europe in order to push forward a new conception of the Socialist United States Of Europe.’[2]

15 years later, as the Leaves and Remains slugged it out in their equally odious and scare-mongering campaigns, there was no talk of a ‘Socialist United States of Europe’ — an idea that hasn’t been posed by anyone of political significance since the 1980s. For much of the Left the issue in the referendum was whether it would move Europe in a better or in a worse direction relative to immediate struggles for social justice, democratic rights and the fair treatment of migrants and refugees. According to Perry Anderson, once a keen Leftist supporter of the EU project:

‘The EU is now widely seen for what it has become: an oligarchic structure, riddled with corruption, built on a denial of any sort of popular sovereignty, enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.’[3]

The accession of East European states into the EU coincided with the expansion eastwards of NATO. Post-9/11/2001, beginning with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the secretive administrators of the EU and NATO were thoroughly implicated in the US-led programmes of rendition, illegal detention, torture, and ongoing military interventions in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).[4] The dream of a ‘Social Europe’, once a cornerstone of the integration project is all but dead; and there is no solution in sight as regards the deepening ‘democratic deficit’ in the structures of the EU. The European ‘constitution’, agreed by the European Council of heads of state in 2004, consisted of 500 pages, setting out neo-liberalism as the basis of political legislation, beyond the reach of popular choice. But in France the government made the mistake of supplying this document — written in a legalese hardly anyone could understand — to every voter in France. So when the French electorate rejected it, as did the Dutch shortly afterwards, the ‘constitution’ was then repackaged as Treaty of Lisbon, which all the EU governments agreed to on the understanding that this time the voters wouldn’t be directly consulted.[5]

The common currency agreement, which established the Eurozone, required member states to hold budget deficits below 3 percent of national income and government debt level below 60 percent of GDP. This meant that no longer could governments deflate their national currency as a tactic to stimulate growth and exports during a downturn. So when the 2008 crash happened the Troika (European Central Bank, International Monetary Fund, European Commission) forced Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland to borrow money to stave off collapse of their banks. Imposing draconian austerity measures and the privatization of state-owned enterprises on these countries, the Troika shifted the debts incurred by corrupt private speculators onto the public. Following the crash, the sole beneficiaries of these so-called bailouts were French, British, German, and Austrian banks. The losers – Greece, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland — lost millions of young people who had to emigrate because they could no longer find employment.[6]

Although there is no necessary contradiction between national sovereignty and internationalism, reform of the Treaty of Lisbon now seems impossible, as it would require the unanimous agreement of all 28 states in the EU, whose governmental makeup runs from the socialist left to the neofascist far-right. If the only possible Left alternative has to be based on democracy and human rights, it has been the French workers who have been showing the way forward in their massive mobilzations against the EU-backed Labor Law, which aims to extend working hours and curtail trade union and employment rights. As regards human rights, in the year 2015 alone, some one million refugees from Syria and other Middle-East and African war zones streamed into EU countries. But in March 2016, as a concession to racist, anti-immigrant sentiment — and in a gross violation of international human rights standards — the European Union made a deal that gave $6 billion to Turkey to block asylum seekers from reaching the rest of Europe.

Brexit and the Left: An Endless Tragedy?

For all of the contending factions in the British June 24 Referendum, the campaign and its results have had all of the hallmarks of classical tragedy: lies, treachery, fear, loathing, hubris, downfall, and even murder — of MP Jo Cox. Prime Minister David Cameron’s gamble — promising a referendum in order to placate a number of Tory MPs who were threatening to defect to the UK Independence Party — failed, leaving him no choice but to step down. His uncontested replacement, Theresa May, having sacked George Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer and bought Boris Johnson’s nominal loyalty with the post of Foreign Secretary, is left trying to hold together a fractious cabal of loose cannons and incompetents. Not only is there no end to the Brexit crisis in sight, but the United Kingdom itself faces possible breakup, since Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Remain. Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party, says of the Scottish vote, ‘That gives me a mandate to try to protect our relationship with the EU. If that is not possible within the UK well then I have been very clear that the option of a second independence referendum has to be on the table.’

The Left in Britain, for its part, has never been so divided. In Greek classical tragedy, resolution of conflict can take place positively or negatively. In Aeschylus’ Orestes, the Furies, hellbent on avenging Clytemnestra’s murder, are reconciled with Apollo’s law and the state. In Sophocles’ Antigone, on the other hand, the outcome is profoundly negative. The dramatic clash in Antigone is between opposing principles: the divine law of family and custom versus the human law of the state; the old gods of the underworld versus the new gods of the heavens; intuition versus concept. Antigone wants her brother, who has died in rebellious combat, given full burial honours. Her uncle, King Creon of Thebes, regards Antigone’s brother as an enemy of the state and wants him left on a garbage tip to be eaten by the birds. The conflict ends in disaster for all concerned. Hegel sees Greek tragedy as a formative, political experience, in which social conflict is enacted and resolved.[7] In Antigone, the key point for Hegel is that each of the conflicting sides knows that the other side is right:

‘The ethical consciousness must, on account of this actuality and on account of this deed, acknowledge its opposite as its own actuality, must acknowledge its guilt.’

Hegel quotes Holderlin’s translation of Sophocles’ Antigone: ‘Because we suffer we acknowledge that we have erred.’[8]

The important question for today’s British Left is how ‘formative’ the political experience of the Brexit vote will be. On the currently divided Left, neither side has any great love for the status quo of the EU, or for the failing UK state. One side could not bring itself to vote the same way as the nationalists of the right, including the racists; and the other side could not stomach voting the same way as Cameron, Osborne, Blair and rest of the political class who have been using the EU as an excuse not to do anything about the destruction and deprivation that neoliberalism has inflicted on the working class ever since Margaret Thatcher pronounced that ‘There is no such thing as society’. In short, no one is innocent and no one is entitled to wear a halo. The fact that there is no consensus on Brexit even amongst supporters of Marxist-Humanism, should neither surprise or dismay. In the South Atlantic War of 1982, Marxist-Humanists refused to support either Britain — a colonial power which had no moral ‘right’ to be occupying the Malvinas — or Argentina, whose fascist military junta was indulging in a military adventure as a desperate attempt to deflect its own overthrow. The International Marxist Humanist Organization of today takes no position on Brexit. Like the rest of the Left, we are where we are and we have to move on.

In the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn ‘tactically’ abandoned  his longstanding opposition to EU membership in the interests of an imaginary party ‘unity’. In practice, this gave the Labour Right a free hand to operate in the Remain camp alongside the Tories and Liberals, whilst plotting a ‘coup’ against him. T.J. Clark, a onetime member of the Situationist International, bewails Labour’s ‘lack of EU exit strategy that truly countered the Conservative one, setting out the recalibrated priorities that Leave made possible’. The Leave vote in England and Wales ‘ought to have presented a movement of the left with a challenge and opportunity’:

‘A Labour Party capable of even the baby steps of political thinking would immediately have pivoted from its previous Remain position… What might have then followed, in a Britain with a better politics, would be a battle to make the upshots of the Leave vote — the terms of a new social settlement — precisely those the right wanted never to be thinkable again. But that could have happened, clearly, only if Labour had recognised what the No in its heartlands signified…The Labour Party, precisely because it realised that Corbyn might be contemplating the kind of pivot described above, has risen in arms to preserve its essential City connection… [In] the 2008 global crash… Capitalism needed saving, but in bailing out the financial institutions with taxpayers’ money, governments transferred the stresses from markets to politics.’ Racism and xenophobia are the stresses’ most familiar symptoms. And everything is conspiring in Britain, yet again, not to allow the stressed — the broken, resentful, precarious and disoriented — the least chance of political representation.’[9]

Philosophies of Populism

Internationally, the parties of the political classes seem to be, if not imploding, at least besieged by new forms of populism on both Left and Right. The philosophical significance of this development is worth examining. Over 40 years ago, Raya Dunayevskaya wrote in Philosophy and Revolution (p7):

‘What makes Hegel our contemporary is what made him so alive to Marx: the cogency of the dialectic of negativity for a period of proletarian revolution, as well as for the “birthtime of history” in which Hegel lived.’

History always surprises; and another surprise is how, on the present day Left, many thinkers regard Kant rather than Hegel as ‘our contemporary’. Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek finance minister, writes on the Kantian ‘categorical imperative’,

‘Having observed so many Germans perform countless acts of kindness toward refugees shunned by other Europeans, I am convinced that something akin to Kantian reasoning is at work.’

However, he continues,

‘… there are several realms where German attitudes are far from consistent with Kantian thinking’, such as ‘when the leader of a small European country, Greece, was threatened with expulsion from the Eurozone unless he accepted an economic reform program that no one truly believes (not even Chancellor Merkel) can alleviate my country’s long standing economic collapse, and the hopelessness that goes along with it. On that occasion no universalisable principle was in play’.[10]

Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason, in attempting to prove the identity of the particular will and the universal will, only manages to come up with a postulate: an ‘ought’, a ‘beyond’, which leaves Reason standing opposed to sensuousness, impulses and inclinations. But contrary to the hopes of Varoufakis, it seems that whatever role Neo-Kantian notions of ‘infinite progress’ might once have played within the EU, the ideal of progress is being replaced by an actual regression based on old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon pragmatism. Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, recently said that the European Union should abandon its ‘utopian dreams’ of ever-closer integration and should concentrate on practical measures such as reinforcing borders and a banking union’.[11] In reality this could mean appeasing the extreme right by excluding Africans and Muslims as migrants and giving so much power to the banks and the EU bureaucracy that it won’t really matter what anyone votes for.

Varoufakis is one of the founders of the Democracy in Europe Movement , whose slogan is ‘Another Europe is Possible’. They argue that, ‘of course’ the EU is a ‘bosses club’ and a neoliberal racket to do down the working class, BUT we have to save it, and capitalism generally, from itself, in order to stave off something worse.[12] Otto von Bismarck once defined politics is “the art of the possible… the art of the next best thing.” The next best thing, according to some on the Left is a new form of populism. According to Pablo Iglesias, General Secretary of the Spanish Podemos party: ‘When you study successful transformational movements you see that the key to success is to establish a certain identity between your analysis and what the majority feels’ (and as a sop to the present-day far left, who he otherwise sees as largely irrelevant or dysfunctional, he argues that Lenin and the Bolsheviks achieved this ‘certain identity’ in 1917 with the slogan ‘bread and peace.’) [13]

One of the key sources of populist synthesis put forward by Iglesias and various leaders of Syriza in Greece is the work of the late Argentine political theorist, Ernst Laclau and Chantal Mouffe.[14] According to Laclau, in his book On Populist Reason (2005), populism is ‘the political act par excellence’ which constructs the concept of the ‘people’. For Laclau, politics is not reducible to traditional Leftist representations of classes or social forces, e.g., workers, peasants, racial or sexual minorities. Rather, the political is about discourse — language. Outside of the world of political discourse there is nothing to constitute a changeable process of social reality — in the same way that for Kant there is nothing outside of the categories of the understanding that can constitute any sort of transcendence. In terms of the linguistics of Ferdinand Saussure, for Laclau the relation is between, on the one hand, the signifier (the political stirrings of the ‘plebs’ and the ‘underdogs’ against the unaccountable alien power of the ‘elite’) and, on the other hand, the thing signified (the power of the people).

Carl Assegard, a Swedish marxist, observes that although Laclau’s concept of the ‘people’ is an ‘imaginary’: ‘That doesn’t mean that it isn’t felt to be real. On the contrary, Laclau points out that it is often the object of intense emotional investment’. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, Laclau denotes the idea of the ‘people’ as the unattainable object of desire of the imaginary subject. Laclau’s concept of the ‘people’ is homologous with the noumenal world in which Kant confines freedom and morality.[15] Hegel describes Kant’s noumenal thing-in-itself as a bit like Hamlet’s father’s ghost: you can’t grasp it or make even make ‘sense’ of it, yet it is real in that it has certain moral power over Hamlet’s actions.

The new Left populism has not been merely dreamed up by political intellectuals. Let us say a group people in a community make specific demands of those in authority. If the demands are not met, ‘people can start to perceive that their neighbors have other, equally unsatisfied demands — problems with water, health, schooling, and so on’.[16] This ‘plurality of demands’ then starts to constitute a broader social subjectivity, and to constitute the ‘people’ as a potential historical actor.  It is such a process that has created Podemos. In Spain, the financial crisis of 2008 led to the foreclosure of 400,000 homes and left a further 3.4 million properties empty. Ada Colau, a grassroots activist with no previous political involvement, set up an organisation to defend and help people threatened with eviction. This soon became a national network of protestors, who took on the mortgage lenders, occupied banks, and physically prevented bailiffs from carrying out evictions. At a Spanish parliamentary hearing in 2013, Ada Colau caused a storm when she turned on the previous speaker, the deputy general secretary of the Spanish Banking Association who had been called as an ‘expert witness’ and said:

‘This man is a criminal, and should be treated as such. He is not an expert. The representatives of financial institutions have caused this problem; they are the same people who have caused the problem that has ruined the entire economy of this country — and you keep calling them experts.’

Colau has also worked with Barcelona citizen groups who are contesting public spaces. As with many other European cities, the tourist industry and the luxury property developers are driving residents out their homes and citizens out of their streets and public spaces. On 24 May 2015 Ada Colau was elected Mayor of Barcelona — and despite the inevitable compromises that come with talking political office, she and her comrades throughout Spain are still facing down the old guard and fighting to a left-populist program.[17] In the June 2016 general election, Unidos Podemos (Podemos’ joint slate with the Greens, Communists and United Left) slightly increased its presence in the Spanish parliament (to 71 deputies), but hopes to unseat Mariano Rajoy’s right-wing Popular Party were unfufilled — a setback blamed by some on the British Brexit vote. 

Struggles in the Spiritual-Animal Kingdom

In Populism, in its broader sense, there are demons as well as angels. Assegard, writing two years before the Trump campaign, writes ‘what we think of as typical populist demands (anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, climate skepticism etc) are not populist in Laclau’s sense as long as they remain mere individual demands that don’t rely on a popular identity (“the people”) to unify a plurality of equivalential chains.’ The trouble is, now they do, as can be clearly seen with Donald Trump slouching towards Washington.

Rowan D Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, warns that the ideology of ‘libertarian democracy’ is marked by a Nietzschean will to power and concentration of ‘legitimate coercion’ in the state. It,

‘conceals an imbalance of power that prompts the unlawful violence of civil society institutions fighting for their self-determination. And this is potentially the gateway to fascism, in that fascism is the violent reclamation by civil society of what it sees the centralized bureaucratic state as having taken away; appealing to law insofar as it claims to restore a natural justice, subverting law because it can offer no resolution of the dilemma of a violence that acts against the law of the state, the universal, in the name of an ensemble of particular interests.’[18]

Williams’ Hegelianism is influenced by Gillian Rose, the late British philosopher who thought that Hegel, in important respects, was more radical than Marx. Certainly, Hegel’s earliest writings show the influence of the political economy of Adam Smith, and take account of the dehumanising conditions of the English proletariat. Hegel says that in bourgeois civil society the law guarantees formal equality of isolated individuals competing against each other, but at the same time presupposes the actual inequality of the real world. Whereas Kant endorses bourgeois  private property law as practical reason in his attempts to formally overcome the contradictions of a real content, Hegel contends that private property cannot be a universal because if it was then everyone would have it, and it wouldn’t exist in the form Kant envisages. As a system of needs, the bourgeois capitalist order represents only partial, relative ethical life. Elements of absolute ethical life Hegel finds in Greek Antiquity: inequality is transparent; production, which is subordinate to praxis or moral order, doesn’t dominate nature, it imitates it. The dramatic change in humankind’s relation to nature that takes place in modernity goes hand-in-hand with the post-Newtonian redefinition of science as instrumental reason and the Kantian redefinition of moral philosophy as practical reason. In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel describes what happens when a supposedly liberated, universal consciousness, purports to treat others as ends in themselves, but in effect treats others and itself as means to an abstract end. Hegel calls this ‘the spiritual-animal kingdom.’[19]

Kant had already taken account, in his later work, of the political economy of Adam Smith. What Kant calls ‘unsocial sociability’ in international relations is somewhat homologous to the ‘invisible hand’ in Smithian economics. As Kant puts it in his essay on Perpetual Peace:

‘Reason can use the mechanism of nature, through self-seeking inclinations that naturally counteract one another externally as well, as a means to make room for its own end, the rule of right… Nature wills irresistably that right ultimately attains supreme authority.’[20]

According to Kant, science, though confined to the world of phenomena and appearance, is capable of limitless expansion through the autonomous intellect. Alfred Sohn-Rethel sees Kantian dualism as the reflex of a class-divided society because in the formulation of the laws of nature in the Understanding, the self-consciousness of the individual ‘I think’ is posited as ‘my own’ experience and socialized through intellectual labor.  In effect Kant isolates that part of our being which can perform in separation from manual labor. Kant argues that science, left unimpeded by religious and feudal institutions, serves the ‘natural’ division between the educated and laboring classes, as, in Adam Smith’s view, does capitalism once feudal restrictions are removed. Sohn-Rethel argues that the exchange abstraction in commodity production allows for and requires the actualization of intellectual labor as an a priori socialized form of thinking. In contrast, manual labor, which produces the magnitude of value, is reduced to an a priori de-socialized form of individual, ‘private’ activity dependent on exchange relations. [21] In Marx’s analysis of how capital organizes and expands cooperation in production, the alienation of ‘private labors’ takes place historically because the artisan is transformed into a factory hand, and takes place ‘logically’ because, within capitalist production, the private individual who has to sell her labor power is isolated in her immediacy and forced into competition with other sellers of labor-power producing the same goods elsewhere.

‘Subject’ and ‘Object’ in Marx’s Capital

Sohn-Rethel argues that labour can be re-socialised by suppression of the market and exchange value, and by the collectivisation of private property. Raya Dunayevskaya, in contrast, sees solutions such as these as failing to transcend capitalist relations. Dunayevskaya, in her 1949 essay, ‘Notes on Chapter One of Marx’s Capital in relation to Hegel’s Logic,’ says that in capitalism use-value becomes the phenomenal form of its opposite, value. Concrete labor becomes the mere matter of the form under which abstract labor manifests itself. Private labors are socialized by the general value-form which, through the medium of money, reduces all actual labor to the expenditure of labor-power — in a bad infinity of unlimited ‘growth’ and accumulation of capital. [22] Under the thumb of capital, labor, as labor in the abstract, is substance, and not actualized as subject in a conflict between ‘good’ use-value and ‘bad’ exchange-value. ‘Labor,’ as the proletariat, only becomes a ‘subject’ in a process leading to its self-abolition via the uprooting of value-production. Marx says, ‘The life-process of society… does not strip off its mystical veil until it is treated as production by freely associated men, and is consciously regulated by them according to a settled plan.’[23]

Marx’s Capital analyzes a ‘pure’ capitalist society in which commodity production predominates. But does Marx’s critique offer in any way an alternative vision based on the ‘practical’ politics of class struggle? There is  a dualist reading of Marx’s Capital (with origins in the work of Moishe Postone) which draws distinction between, on the one hand, the logical, esoteric and abstract dimensions of Marx’s great work — which are seen as still useful and relevant — and on the other hand, the historical, exoteric and political dimensions of ‘traditional marxism’, which are seen as outdated or just plain wrong. This reading however, fails to take account of Marx’s own acute awareness of this problem.

Marx on 7 December 1867 tells Engels of a mischievous plan he has to write a review of Capital for a hostile publication using the fictional identity of a ‘progressive’ bourgeois intellectual — Darwinist and materialist in outlook. The review would take note of Marx’s ‘tendentious conclusions’, which see ‘present society… [as] pregnant with a new, higher form’; but would praise him for recognizing that ‘frightening direct consequences’ are an ‘historical necessity’ of capitalist production. The review would note Marx’s tendency to be ‘subjective’ because of ‘his party position and his past’, but would nonetheless insist that this had ‘absolutely no relation’  to the ‘objective’ representation of ‘the ultimate outcome of the present movement, of the present social process, to real development’. Marx’s intention in this letter is clearly to stir things up in the camp of the Lassallean socialist party: by having the review conclude that the ‘Mr. Marx’ has, ‘perhaps [despite himself], sounded the death-knell to all socialism by the book, i.e. to utopianism, for evermore’.

In 1967, Guy Debord, in Society of the Spectacle, refers to this letter in putting forward his own Lukacsian argument that whilst the bourgeoisie came to power as the class of economic development, the proletariat would never do so unless it became ‘the class of consciousness’: ‘The growth of the forces of production cannot in itself guarantee this accession to power…’ The point for Debord was that Marx, despite having sometimes ‘overrated the value of scientific prediction’, never fell prey to the illusions of ‘economism.’[24]

Marx published Capital in 1867 in the midst of organising the First International. By 1875, following the collapse of the International in the aftermath of the Paris Commune, Marx wrote the Critique of the Gotha program in order to take on what he saw to be the erroneous thinking of the leaders of the fledgling German socialist party. The cornerstone of the German socialists’ program was their demand for workers’ co-operative enterprises to be funded by the state. This measure, they argued, would break the capitalist monopoly of the means of production and thus abolish the ‘theft’ of the fruits of labour through the extraction of surplus value. For Marx however, the point was not to ‘realise’ any ‘just’ distribution of surplus value, but to abolish value-production itself.

‘Socialism’ in the 21st Century

One difference today — compared to 1875 — is that capital is providing fewer and fewer jobs for those it needs to exploit. There is much discussion today on the idea of a universal wage to deal with unemployment due to the growth of robotization in nearly all areas of employment. Certainly, this proposal could raise some important questions. How is the money for the universal wage going to be extracted from the tax-havens of our money-laundering capitalist class? Could all of the money that finance capital has stashed be expropriated to provide millions homes, green jobs and material aid to areas ravaged by poverty and war? — or would a huge of proportion of the finance capital turn out to be fictional, i.e., having an imaginary value purely determined by the forces of fear and greed?

There are various reformist measures to be fought for, involving myriad arenas of struggle. In the strictly political arenas, it is clear that the supporters of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, Pablo Iglesias, Ada Colau, Yanis Varoufakis et al. believe that there is a fight to be had for achievable reforms. The danger is that equating reforms with socialism obscures the real nature of the capitalist mode of production, a proper critique of which is the precondition for developing an alternative to capitalism. Failure on that level would undermine the very reforms which are the raison d’etre of the reformist Left — of all stripes.


[1] Raya Dunayevskaya, Weekly Political Letter July 14 1961, entitled The Berlin Crisis, the European Common Market and the International Class Struggle’, RDC 2948-40


[2] Hobgoblin. No. 3 Winter 2000/2001

[3] Perry Anderson, ‘The Greek Debacle’, Jacobin (23 July), www.jacobinmag.com/2015/07/tspiras-syriza-euro-perry-anderson

[4] Perry Anderson, ‘Depicting Europe’, London Review of Books, 20 Sept 2007


[5] Perry Anderson, After the Event, New Left Review 73, January-February 2012  https://newleftreview.org/II/73/perry-anderson-after-the-event

[6] Conn Hallinan, ‘As Brexit Approaches, Europe’s Left Is Divided – and for Good Reason’, Foreign Policy on Focus http://fpif.org/brexit-approaches-europes-left-divided-good-reason/

[7] Gillian Rose, Hegel Contra Sociology, p141

[8] Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, (Miller trans.) para 470

[9] T.J. Clark, ‘Where are we now? Responses to the Referendum’, London Review of Books, 14 July 2016. On the Corbyn phenomenon, see D Black, ‘Chartists, Corbynistas and the Strange Death of New Labour England’, International Marxist-Humanist,14 Sept, 2015

[10] https://www.socialeurope.eu/2015/09/the-refugee-crisis-immanuel-kant-and-germanys-moral-leadership/

[11] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-eu-referendum-36429331

[12] http://www.anothereurope.org/vote-in-another-europe-is-possible-a-national-event-with-yanis-varoufakis-john-mcdonnell-and-many-more/

[13] ‘The Left Can Win’ by Pablo Iglesias, Jacobin, Dec 2014 https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/pablo-iglesias-podemos-left-speech/

[14] A salutary shock?: Chantal Mouffe on Brexit and the Spanish elections http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2732-a-salutary-shock-chantal-mouffe-on-brexit-and-the-spanish-elections

[15]  Carl Assegard, http://carlcassegard.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/laclau-and-return-of-people.html

[16] Ibid.

[17]  Dan Hancox, ‘Is this the world’s most radical mayor?’ Guardian, 26 May 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/26/ada-colau-barcelona-most-radical-mayor-in-the-world

18 The Sadness of the King: Gillian Rose, Hegel and the Pathos of Reason’, Telos #173, Winter 2015

[19] Gillian Rose, Hegel Contra Sociology

[20] Immanuel Kant, Essay on Perpetual Peace (Trans. Colclasure), p 91

[21] Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labour: a Critique of Epistemology.For a critique of Sohn-Rethel’s position see David Black, The Philosophical Roots of Anti-Capitalism and ‘Contra Sohn-Rethel: On the Philosophical Roots of Anti-Capitalism’ http://www.internationalmarxisthumanist.org/articles/contra-sohnrethel-philosophical-roots-anticapitalismby-david-black

[22] Raya Dunayeskaya, ‘Notes on Chapter One of Marx’s Capital and its Relation to Hegel’s Logic’ (1949), in The Marxist-Humanist Theory of State-Capitalism (Chicago: News and Letters Publications, 1992), pp 89-94.

[23] Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p.173.

[24] Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle, (Detroit, Black & Red), 1977/ ¶88, ¶89.



Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 Comment

  1. Mia Carlsen

    David Black has written a very challenging article, raising some important issues concerning the present state of capitalism and the different ways of approaching it in Europe today. He is developing his analysis with the help of two central examples: Brexit and the development of Left Populism, especially as imanifested in SYRIZA and Podemos. By this article, Black reveals a part of the complex picture developing at present in Europe. On the one side is the development of European capitalism. On the other, is an extremely fragmented opposition and lack of collective revolutionary consciousness and resistance.


    As a Brexit defender, Black understands and accepts many of the arguments from the Remain-side. His worry is how the campaigns for Brexit and Remain have contributed to a deep split in the British Left that over time might develop in a destructive direction. As he argues: “The important question for today`s British Left is how ‘formative’ the political experience of the Brexit vote will be.”

    The development of Left Populism in Europe

    In the next part of the article Black gives an important analysis of the development of present Left Populism in Europe, exemplified with the theory of Ernst Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. Both these theoreticians have had a great influence on the theoretical positions of Podemos. However, by a quite complicated analysis Black shows how the ideology of Left populism may legitimize Right Populism, in a way which, unfortunately may contribute to an ideological ground for a new kind of Fascism in Europe.

    How should we as Marxist Humanists meet the present situation?

    At the present time, I am reading Marilyn Nissim-Sabat’s book, Neither Victim Nor Survivor. Thinking toward a new humanity (2011). To is an important book, not at least because Nissim-Sabat brings forward some theoretical and ethical positions fruitful to meet some of the dilemmas that Black raises in his article. Both Nissim-Sabat and Black use the Greek drama Antigone to illustrate how philosophy can help us to handle disagreements among individuals or groups. Both are concerned about our ability to understand the other part. Black argues that in Antigone there are two opposing logics that compete with each other, in one way or another both logics are right. Nissim-Sabat arrives at another conclusion. Like Black, she argues as that the drama of Antigone displays two different logics, but she argues that one is right and one is wrong (Nissim-Sabat, 2011). So I will use some of Nissim-Sabat`s arguments to challenge Black`s positions.


    I am myself a Brexit defender, and I am as Black is, deeply worried about the split in the British Left (as well as in the Norwegian Left). However, I believe that for now this split is something we have to accept and live with. However, it is most important for us that we decide and take the responsibility to move on. Our movement cannot depend on what happens in the EU, or how the British Government will handle the present situation. To move on is to be able to understand, not only the other part`s logic, but our own as well. We cannot and must not accept blame that, as Brexit defenders, that we are supporting rightwing politics. It is EU`s capitalist logic that makes its formations unable to meet the present situation. Parallel with our critique of EU we must continue to seek alliances with the same people that we disagree with in England, Norway, US, Germany and in Turkey.

    Our critique of the Left Populism

    David Black puts forward some important arguments about the development of Left Populism and the reason why their logic is so harmful. As Marxist-Humanists, we must be brave enough to criticize this ideology, as well as we must be able to unite with the parts of the Left Populism that we agree about. There are as always many possibilities for alliances. One is how to meet the present situation in Turkey.

    The Turkish issue

    A Richard Abernethy describes in his newest Articles in the net, the situation in Turkey is moving in a very dangerous direction. From all parts of the world, the military coup is condemned. However, as Abernethy argues, Erdogan and his Government are developing a contra coup.

    In Germany 30.000 Turkish citizens have demonstrated in support for Erdogan. In Norway, the supporters of Erdogan attack groups from their own country, accusing them of being traitors and supporters of Gülen. The spokeswoman of the Turkish Embassy in Norway has started a campaign telling the Norwegian population why Erdogan`s actions against the whole opposition are necessary.

    Nissim-Sabat argues very strongly for the need of a more developed and mature human development. This is a prerequisite for a new and non-capitalist humanity. As Marxist-Humanists we cannot accept the logic that “might makes right”; just as we cannot accept that it is ok to treat our enemies as they treat us.

    Even if most of the population in Turkey will defend Erdogan`s brutal violence toward his enemies, we can`t. Even if the majority of the people in Turkey should support Erdogan, we cannot support this kind of punishment. This shows that the opinion of “the people” can never in itself be a guarantee for what is right and what is wrong.

    In a discussion with Simone de Beauvoir, one of her opponents ones exclaimed; “You say this because you are a woman”. Whereupon she answered, “I say it because it is true”.