Yesterday, I wrote a quote of Louis Althusser, talking about human knowledge, intention, and the flow of time. “To imagine life in advance is beyond human intelligence.” Today, these are words that should give us hope.
Watching the Brexit victory this week, it was pretty clear that the leading edge of anti-EU activism was Nigel Farage. Yes, Boris Johnson was its mainstream face, but the key message of the Leave campaign was “Take Back Control!” a message that’s been at the centre of Farage and UKIP’s program for years already.
|As my Twitter mate @meakoopa pointed out, this blonde guy from that|
Donald Trump campaign ad basically is a slightly older version of the
Nazi singing kid from Cabaret.
There are progressive elements in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, like trade union and labour activists. But theirs weren’t the messages that drove people. Those messages were instead the ideas of nationalism and racism. Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point!” poster demonizing war refugees.
And never forget “Death to traitors! Freedom for Britain!”
A few times in media consumption around Brexit, a curious idea appeared. That we were seeing a new iteration of the nationalism that fuelled the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s. That idea was in an image, of the proud Nazi child from Cabaret singing “Tomorrow belongs to me!”
While we should keep this danger – and it’s a real danger – in mind, our situation isn’t quite the same. It might be better. It might also be much worse. Our current situation won’t exactly repeat the 1930s, if for no other reason than one simple difference – that rise to fascism already happened.
Each time horror has risen in Western politics over the last century or so, we’ve built new institutions to repair the problems that caused the previous collapse. The problem is that problems in those new institutions cause a new, different collapse.
Think about it like this. Aggressive imperialism of the great European powers caused the horror of the First World War – millions killed in an industrialized death machine of mass-scale artillery. The League of Nations was built as a forum for peaceful discussion among the elites of imperialist states.
|Alexis Tsipras could have made Greece a leader in a new|
approach to social democracy for the 21st century,
capable of standing up to new liberal dogma. But
instead he gave in, and nationalism has the upper hand.
But the League of Nations took for granted the existence of imperialism and the power of elites to control their populations. Italian, German, and Spanish nationalism were mass popular movements that co-opted and overthrew elites.
So the United Nations was about channelling nationalism constructively. Its greatest achievement was overseeing the dismantling of Europe’s colonial empires and creating a forum where peoples and leaders who were once controlled and commodified in imperialism could speak on equal terms with their former military governors.
The ecology of international and non-governmental organizations developed in the space the UN opened. All these networks where people can organize globally and work for economic empowerment and political freedom are all due to institutions like the United Nations.
And the European Union.
The United Nations is slowly losing its power. The decline, I think, became permanent when the United States invaded Iraq and destroyed its society with its incompetent occupation. They proved that the multilateral institutions that were supposed to ensure a trajectory of peace and prosperity for humanity couldn’t handle a superpower truly dedicated to unilateral aggression.
So that's the political destabilization. What about the economic? The other solution to the rise of fascism 80 years ago was building state institutions that would prevent mass poverty and deprivation. The welfare state was a material check on the mass scale desperation that drives a population to embrace a death machine.
Well, the new liberal economic policies of the 1980s destroyed that institution in the name of freedom. Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom has become probably the single most influential book of economic and political theory in the contemporary world.
It justifies the destruction of institutions that prevent mass poverty and the accumulation of wealth in an oligarchy. That justification is in the name of freedom, because of Hayek’s argument that all forms of reliance on the state and government for any kind of material well-being or even mild support opens society on a slippery slope to totalitarianism.
Give a government even an inch, says Hayek, and your society will grow more comfortable with bureaucratic state control. Now, this argument does make sense for societies where government is conceived only as a national command structure. And a government can very easily slip into becoming an institution of pure authoritarianism.
But a population that maintains a constant pressure on government institutions and leaders to remember that they aren’t a people’s leaders, but their servants? That population keeps itself free.
That was the social movement that began in Greece with OXI. OXI offered an institutional framework to the values and imperative of Occupy.
The relief of national debt, cutting the hedge funds loose to cut their losses – which Argentines and Puerto Ricans could certainly use right now. The autonomy to adjust the value of a region’s currency to its own macro-economic needs. A basic income strategy to hold off poverty and desperation, and provide enough aggregate demand to keep local production running.
All of these were sound ideas that the European Central Bank killed in the name of paying off the hedge funds and keeping the continental currency in a region whose economic needs were no longer suited to using the same currency as powerhouse Germany. The result was humiliation and poverty.
The Greek crisis resulted in the one time Nigel Farage ever made sense, when he made a speech in the European Parliament calling on Alexis Tsipras to leave the EU. It was the only way Greece and its people could regain any control over their economy. But they got the pro-oligarchy policy instead.
So now radical nationalism holds momentum throughout Europe, as the only program that opposes the new liberal oligarchy program of the European Union. That nationalism would shut down immigration, deport ethnic minorities, and holds such violent contempt for refugees from the horrifying wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.
I would not be surprised if the nationalist movements’ ultimate solution to the refugee crisis in Europe is a patchwork of concentration camps.
The institutions of multilateralism and trade interdependence were intended to ward off future explosions of nationalist violence. But the corruption of trade with oligarchy and the destruction of multilateralism with war has given nationalism space to explode anew.
We owe it to humanity to oppose this violent nationalism and hatred. We can still fight these currents if we understand that oligarchy, war, and nationalism are all our enemy. And they can be stopped by building institutions that entrench brotherhood, economic security, and freedom.
The writers of Cabaret could only say "Tomorrow belongs to me!" long after it had become yesterday. That Nazi kid's tomorrow was already yesterday, because his song was written in 1966. We in 2016, however, still have the power to stop the new Western nationalism.
Tomorrow belongs to no one. We fight for control of today.