Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Brexit Fantasies and Remainer IIlusions

 For thousands of years, the borders between cultures (traditions, customs, languages) in Europe were much more fluid than today. It was not possible to say e. g. "These are the French", "These are the Germans" and "These are the Italians", because the cultures flowed into each other. People also did not feel French, German, Italian, whatever, because that thought only came up in the 18th century. People felt allegiance to their family and their village, not to larger cultural units.

There were countries, but the countries did not map onto cultures. They were either small kingdoms or large multi-ethnic empires whose monarchs usually acquired territory through inheritance, conquest or marriage, without thought to the culture or language of the people whose rulers they became. There was no patriotic resistance to this practice until the 18th century. For the most part, it wasn't a problem, because the administration was local, in the hands of feudal lords who did speak the local language and knew the local practices.

While Eurocrats and politicians in member states have declared for internationalism and harmony, they have simultaneously organised a regime of exclusion which divides ‘Europeans’ from ‘non-Europeans’ as effectively as any imagined differences which were earlier said to separate Germans, French, or Italians. Fortress Europe has a class character, intended to deny entry to almost all of those seeking a buyer for their semi- and unskilled labour power, as well as those seeking sanctuary from civil conflict and repression. The vast majority of those denied entries are poor and vulnerable; those with wealth and privilege are invariably admitted such as the Russian oligarchs with well-filled bank accounts to buy up football clubs.

Fortress Europe, in fact, draws upon ideas which earlier underpinned Europe’s rival nationalisms. It has encouraged racism in general and helped to provide rationales for the extreme right, where the vocabulary of Nazism has reappeared in the form of defending “European” and “Christian” culture. The EU has begun to construct its exclusionary regime with razor wire and border police, with the idea of securing Europe against ‘threats’ from without. EU states were focused intently upon removing migrants and refugees deemed ‘bogus’, ‘clandestine’ or ‘illegal’. The vast majority of those targeted are poor and vulnerable people, almost invariably of African or Middle Eastern origin. But EU states have also targeted an ‘enemy’ long present within European territorial boundaries. The Roma peoples were identified by fascist movements of the 1920s and 1930s as one of their two greatest enemies: conservatively at least 200,000 Gypsies were sent to the death camps. In a crisis-stricken Europe images of the divided past are returning. Immigration policies are now formed in response to the collective insecurities and imaginings of public opinion; the clampdown on illegal immigrants, the need for tighter border controls, the threat of religious fundamentalism, the perceived loss of national identity, and the fears of demographic invasion are characteristic reactions of the right-wing revival. The media regularly carries stories of an Islamic menace, with Europe depicted as a target zone for migrants who could make common cause with resident Muslim communities which are increasingly depicted as a fifth-column within European society. The EU’s progress towards a fortified Europe and the heavy cost in terms of intensified racism and growth of the right presents a dismal picture. Yet the Remainers depict a content transnational Europe in which old conflicts are being erased but it is the commercial trade-offs that drive businesses to remain with the EU.

While the promises of the Brexiters were the usual empty promises that politicians trade in, the dire predictions of the Remain camp were exaggerations designed to scare people into voting for them. It didn’t work but nothing much will change. Big Business will be able to live with Brexit and adapt to it. One of Brexit’s more attractive slogans – in fact, minus the ‘of our borders’, its only attractive one  – was ‘take back control’, with its suggestion that people should be in a position to control their destiny; a tempting appeal to people unable to control what global capitalism has done and is doing to them. After Brexit, the British Parliament will regain its power to enact what laws it wants, this will prove to be more nominal than real. Governments cannot control the way the profit system works. It’s the other way round. Governments have to adapt their policies to fit in with the economic laws of capitalism which dictate that making profits has to take priority over meeting people’s needs.

Voters, parliaments and governments may propose, but capitalism disposes. Brexit won’t change this. It was the case before Britain joined the EU in 1973 and will be the same after Britain eventually leaves. Those who were led to think that Brexit will allow them to control their destiny have been cruelly deceived. Socialists have always wanted working people to ‘take control’ of their collective destiny. That’s what socialism is all about.

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