31st March 2017
Photo: UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, signs up to article 50
It is fashionable in certain circles to think that the UK vote to leave the European Union is the cause of a variety of ills in the world. The election of Donald Trump as US President has been laid at the door of Brexit, and claimed by right wing apologists, such as Nigel Farage. The possibility of a Marine Le Pen presidency in France is blamed upon Brexit. The possibility of Alternativ fur Deutschland (AFD) doing well in German elections later this year is flagged as another example of the spreading Brexit contagion.
The truth however is that Brexit is not the cause; it is one symptom of the changing pattern of alliances in the capitalist world. It is a consequence of there being no visible alternative model to capitalism, on any significant scale, since the break up of the Soviet Union. China does present a non-imperialist alternative to post-Soviet capitalism but retains a decidedly nationalist focus in terms of economic development. Others outside the imperialist orbit such as Cuba and VietNam cannot present economic strength on the scale of the Soviet Union, while North Korea functions as a form of militarist nationalism, which the Chinese have to keep in check.
The emerging threat and opposition of the various strands of Islamic fundamentalism either function as capitalist economies with an Islamic face, such as Turkey, or are more brutal forms of military and ideological dictatorship such as Pakistan and Iran. The Gulf states such as Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are essentially feudal oligarchies to whom the West can sell weapons while pretending that propping up such dictatorships leaves them without blood on their hands.
In South and Latin America the struggle led by Cuba, taken up at various times by Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador and others, to establish an alternative to US post-colonial domination, has been thwarted at various times by US intervention, either directly or in support of reactionary opposition. The struggle continues but there is no doubt that the tendency of US foreign policy under Trump will once again shift towards the concept of South America being the US ‘backyard’ in political and economic terms.
The narrative of much of the twentieth century in Europe was to move towards greater support, co-operation and understanding amongst people’s, a narrative which had its roots in nineteenth century socialism and the spread of Marxist ideas. The defeat of fascism in the Second World War meant such ideas were in the ascendancy across much of Eastern Europe with state ownership of key services and industries common. Nationalisation of key utilities and industries was common in Western Europe too and the establishment of a National Health Service in the UK marked a significant shift in social policy.
The struggle for national liberation across Asia, Africa and Latin America meant that emerging economies were no longer prepared to accept their roles as mineral providers for capitalism but wanted to take control of their own resources. It is not surprising that many of these economies leaned towards the Soviet model, given the extent to which their economies had been plundered by capitalism.
Inevitably, it was not a smooth ride. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed in 1948 to give a cover to Western intervention across the globe. United States interventions in Korea and VietNam, the latter in particular resulting in the US retreating ignominiously, were evidence that imperialism would not give up without a fight. The CIA backed coup d’etat in Chile, interventions in Grenada and Nicaragua, the UK adventure in the Falklands, were all part of a pattern of capitalist resistance. Ongoing support for the apartheid dictatorship in South Africa and the propping up of a variety of petty tyrants across the globe were also used to entrench the capitalist order.
The late 1980’s saw the stepping up of pressure from the Reagan administration in the United States, backed by the Thatcher government in the UK, and a weakening of ideological understanding, represented by the doctrine of perestroika, on the part of the leadership of the Soviet Union. It was a toxic mix.
The defeat inflicted upon the Soviet Union in 1991 was the hammer blow to progressive forces across the world. Support and solidarity, both in economic and military terms, had been an integral part of the relationship of the Soviet Union to its allies and to national liberation movements. That support, along with the technical and scientific expertise the Soviet Union provided to many emerging economies, rapidly disappeared as the twenty first century came into view.
For the twenty first century, the narrative has shifted significantly. Individualism, nationalism and xenophobia are gaining the upper hand. The internationalism and co-operation between people’s, which forms the basis of a socialist world view, has been appropriated in a diluted form by the leaders of the EU, and those in the UK Remain camp, who see the European Union as an internationalist project. As internationalism goes, it is a pale shadow. There are those on the Left shedding more tears for the prospect of leaving the EU than they ever did for the defeat of the Soviet Union, an event that many of them applauded.
Brexit, Trump, Le Pen, and all of the associated ills the Remainers wring their hands over, are simply the sound of chickens coming home to roost. Capitalism will always be inexorable in its efforts to defeat socialism and socialist ideas. In the process it will fight battles within its own boundaries as competing powers struggle to gain the upper hand and dominate markets. The process is endemic; capitalism is inherently competitive. To believe that the European Union, or any other coalition or capitalist alliance, could last forever is nothing short of foolhardy.
Unless we cut off its head, the snake will eat itself. There is no alternative but to go back to basics and renew the struggle to bring the people’s of the world together, not just the leaders of their respective nations. Until that becomes a realistic prospect, Brexit is neither here nor there. It is certainly not the cause of the world’s ills.