When August Bebel wrote that “anti-semitism is the socialism of fools”, this was the sort of thing he was talking about. It isn’t directly anti-semitic, of course, but it deploys the standard tropes of anti-semitic conspiracy theory — shadowy international financiers, sinister foreign puppet-masters undermining our national integrity — in a hamfisted attempt to make sense of how capitalist agents and institutions shape and respond to events like the Brexit vote.
I blame Carole Cadwalladr in particular for feeding this narrative with her breathless scaremongering about Cambridge Analytica and the Trump-Farage Pact. But it represents more generally a desperate search on the part of liberal remainers to find an explanation for the Brexit vote that exonerates our own failing democratic institutions. They need there to be some “exceptional” cause, outside of the normal life of those institutions, that can explain their failure to maintain the status quo.
What these narratives are unable to grasp is that “interference by foreign powers” is normal (it certainly is when “we” do it, which is all the time); relentless propaganda across all available channels is normal; capitalist agents and institutions strategising around major events is normal; co-ordination between these various forces, via thinktanks and other mechanisms, is normal. If you only “add up” the agents and actions that feed into your narrative of exceptionality, you are missing the entire terrain on which they operate, which includes any number of transnational bodies and vested interests pushing in different directions. There was and is just as much of a “conspiracy” in favour of Remain as there ever was in favour of Leave.
Brexit was a victory for a fairly horrible coalition of interests, and I for one am still hoping that it is overturned by a different horrible coalition of interests. But this stuff, although I’m sure it’s all factually accurate and hangs together on its own terms, still has essentially the structure of a fantasy. It screens out the real complexity of things, by selectively pulling on a few threads and making a fetish of the tangle that emerges.