Dreaming of Brexit

Globalization of capitalism and markets is an objective force that has no respect for nations, or any other barrier to commerce. The League of Nations, the United Nations, the bilateral and multilateral governmental and corporate infrastructures established by arms and diplomatic treaties and trade agreements since the Second World War – all trace the history of the world’s efforts to peacefully resolve the spiraling contradictions of the past century. They are also a timeline of steps taken to prevent the alternative: wars – whether of an economic, commercial, martial, revolutionary, or terroristic nature. 

I love Karl Marx’s classic not-out-of-date-yet description of this process:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

By “objective” I mean, for example, that nearly every life decision you make is shaped by a good, a service, or a property you want to buy or want the money (the universal commodity) to buy. The hammer shapes the hand. The opportunities that determine life for the majority of the world’s peoples are necessarily shaped by opportunities arising or declining in global markets.

It is not possible – socially – to refuse to participate in globalization without paying an ever-increasing tariff, with interest! Over the years, the expansion of trade in goods, capital, labor, and services has generated tremendous wealth. But the gains from that trade, with few exceptions, have not been shared with working families. For giant multinational corporations, the “global” world is a world with few cops and lots of hiding places for ill-gotten treasure. If current trends continue, they will succeed eventually in reducing corporate taxes to zero all over the world by leveraging their control of investment dollars to nations with favorable (meaning always lower) tax rates.

In the U.S., we have see this in the sustained attacks, initiated under Reagan, by the ruling corporate faction on the New Deal and Great Society social contracts – contracts which strove towards equity, if not equality. The result is a growing paralysis in the politics of the center, a steady decline in labor’s share of wealth relative to capital, the rise of both fascist and socialist movements, and sharply heightened tensions at many of the class, race, gender, nationality, and religion crossroads of the emerging global society.

Brexit is no way out

Brexit is the stupid way of adapting, of rejecting the rip-offs most workers end up getting from globalization. It will lead to further poverty and unemployment. But then from another perspective, perhaps it doesn’t seem so stupid, if there really is no other way to loudly say NO. People will join the available shout, no matter who initiated it. The wolf that bites off its own paw to escape a trap: If he had had fingers he might have found a way to release the trap, but only teeth were available. Still, we end up with a weakened and crippled wolf.

Here is a political thought experiment. Imagine you are in a conversation, back in 2001, with Donald Rumsfeld (secretary of Defense under Bush II and one of the architects of the Iraq war).

“Don,” you say, “Tell me why we’re going to war in Iraq again.”

Rummy says, “We can’t fix the Middle East unless we seize some real estate and wield a much bigger stick in the whole area. It’s a great adventure!”

“What would you say, Don, if I predicted the European Union being swallowed whole by the refugee migration and chaos from your ‘adventure’?”

“Baloney,” says Don.

The problem is that Rumsfeld is not the only one who would have said “baloney” to that prediction.

Capital has moved all over the world. Wherever it goes, labor follows. All nations will become multinational. Every global crisis can and will become a national crisis. Brexit was, in a critical way, a result of the tidal migration from the catastrophe of the Middle East which has now very likely swallowed the EU whole. Just as Donald Trump swallowed the Republican Party whole.

More socialism, more internationalism

The current wave of global resistance to this legacy of globalization will continue until an international adjustment, or adjustments, capable of managing the currently unregulated globalization imbalances can emerge. Austerity is the doomed ‘global’ policy response of the most reactionary corporations and billionaires who have been the core backers of the Republican Party since at least Reagan. As institutions and associated economies fail, armies formal and informal will come to the fore.

More socialism, more equality, and more internationalism would be the enlightened policy response. This is a response that calls, primarily, for a change in direction on inequality and austerity.

But, in the end, globalization (hopefully in overall more equitable forms) will, I wager, be stronger, and nations will be weaker, as the wisdom which generations only seem to gain from loss of blood, once again accrues to the victors.

While so far I’ve focused on the objective factors, it’s worth mentioning a near and dear subjective one. I count three great campaigns, and leaders, of the Left in the United States in the post-WWII era: Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesse Jackson, and Bernie Sanders. They merit the designation great because they: a) put millions of folks in the street; or b) got millions of votes – on the elementary programs of higher incomes, greater equality, and peace.

All these campaigns were and are fully consistent with a socialist direction, but also entirely free of sectarian dogma. Had the same been possible to say for organized Left formations in the U.S., a more favorable ground of struggle might have been achieved before this looming collision of global forces, combined with destructive environmental “externalities,” crashes upon us.

Dr. King proved poor people can be mobilized into powerful, disciplined formations for equality. Jesse Jackson proved it was possible for peace, jobs, and equality positions to have wide, multi-racial electoral appeal, especially among labor.  Bernie Sanders proved it was possible to govern in this society along consistent democratic socialist principles in the 1980s in Vermont – and took 12 million votes 35 years later explaining it to the nation.

Globalization is unstoppable. Even war will only cause a pause. But its shape, boundaries, and direction are all subject to initiative.

Internationalism, jobs, equality, peace – it works everywhere. Dump the dogma. Keep it simple. Keep it scientific. Focus on the money on the table. Do a Bernie. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

Photo: Paul Floyd/Flickr 


John Case
John Case

John Case is a former electronics worker and union organizer with the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers (UE), also formerly a software developer, now host of the WSHC "Winners and Losers" radio program in Shepherdstown, W.Va.