A Brexit nightmare
11 Jul 2016|

Image courtesy of Flickr user duncan c

The prospect of huge financial and currency collapses inevitably dominated initial concerns over Britain’s decision to leave the EU. But greater stability now seems likely as world markets adjust to the changed circumstances.

More worrying are emerging geo-political uncertainties now posing potentially nightmarish threats to European political stability and to global peace and security.

Brexit underscores increasing voter rejection of the globalising neo-liberal economic and social policies that have shaped world affairs since the 1970s. British voters have signalled a decisive preference for nationalistic populist solutionsfocussed on real or imagined concerns over immigration and the loss of sovereignty to bureaucrats in Brussels.

Many working-class people across Western Europe and elsewhere no longer see their lives improving: jobs are insecure, wages aren’t rising, economies are sluggish, and social benefits are being eroded by immigrant arrivals and by governments pursuing austerity policies. So much for the blessings of free-markets and fundamentalist capitalism.

The Brexit vote reflected a spreading mood of alienation, defiance, anger, and rejection of the political establishment’s economic and political views: leaders may be losing the masses in part to toxic and vengeful sentiments.

So far, of course, only the British have taken this road, but the word ‘contagion’ is increasingly appearing in global political analysis. France, the Netherlands, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Austria and others have all spawned their own Nigel Farages and Boris Johnsons with similar siren songs of liberation and ‘taking back our country’, ‘reasserting our sovereignty’ and expelling immigrants.

The same phenomenon has emerged in the US with the rise and rise of Donald Trump, defying the Republican Party establishment and urging Americans to embrace the politics of exclusion, even hatred. The family resemblances between Trump and the Euro-haters are striking.

The chaotic political aftermath of the Brexit vote leaves little room for doubt that establishments across Europe and economic bureaucrats haven’t a clue about what they need to do to bring traditional supporters back to the rational pragmatic political and pragmatic centre.

They’re flopping about helplessly while defiant agitators campaign for the downfall of the EU. Bonds of solidarity, respect and unity are breaking down between impotent leaders and rampaging followers everywhere in Europe. The mass resignations in the British Labour Party perfectly illustrate the crisis.

Who gains geo-politically from this political and bureaucratic disarray and confusion? Above all, Vladimir Putin, the authoritarian Russian leader who still harbors Marxian dreams of burying the West. He’s delighted by Brexit and its aftermath. With Europe divided and directionless, Putin knows that it will be increasingly difficult for the EU to impose and maintain effective sanctions on Russia over its brutal actions in the Ukraine and Crimea.

It’s not in the Western interest to do anything to encourage the emergence of a more assertive and aggressive Russia. Yet that’s precisely what the Brexit vote and agitation in other Western European countries is encouraging.

Ironically, the Brexit agitators march under the democratic banner:  they promise to put power back in the hands of the people, to usher in the dawn of a new independence day, to return freedom to masses much put upon by Brussels. They give voice and substance to political desires, dreams and neuroses.

This is debauched democracy. It’s not tolerant; it’s not inclusive; it targets difference and singles out minorities for persecution. It gives life and purpose to the activities of Islamist and other species of fascist and strengthens the arm of Putin’s aggressive regime.

The governments of Western Europe and the EU may yet be able to manage and surmount this crisis. It’s not, for example, clear how far and how fast other populist groups will move to exploit the referendum process to impose more nationalistic and populist politics on Europe.

But here’s the nightmare: in 1933 Hitler came to power after winning 33%of the votes in 1932 elections. It was entirely legal, with the Prussian political elite convinced it could manage the upstart Bavarian guttersnipe who boasted he would restore Germany’s greatness. Gallows, gas chambers and total war were just over the horizon.

We’re not there yet, but it’s not hard to imagine that there could be embryonic Fuhrers among the populist agitators now offering to restore national greatness and to oust unwanted newcomers. The EU has kept the peace in Europe since 1945. Only fools and madmen would tear it down.