The Real Meaning of Brexit: A Cry of Pain

Rabbi Lerner’s Introductory Note: The vote by a majority in the UK to exit from the European Union (Britain exiting, now called Brexit) is actually a cry of pain by the working people of Britain, and a reflection of the growing pain that will shape the social and political lives of our world in the coming decades till that pain is fully addressed.

Unfortunately, the media and the ruling elites refuse to take responsibility for the global mess they’ve been making. Instead they seek to put the blame on a sudden surge of ultra nationalism and hatred of immigrants. But this is a distorted picture that seeks to blame working people’s fears on their own reactionary ideologies, and misses the way the ruling elites of the society, the 1% of richest people and their millions of allies in the upper levels of banks and corporations, media, academia, law, government and politics, who have developed a neo-liberal economic strategy that has resulted in massive loss of jobs and a triumph of the values of materialism and selfishness in daily life, are actually now trying to blame everyone else for the global mess they have made. Don’t get taken in by the media and the politicians and their superficial explanations–read the two articles below please! The first is from a European activist and visionary, the second from an American economist. Together they give us the information to challenge the media and our political misleaders. We at Tikkun do not fully endorse every part of these two different analyses, particularly not Jeffrey Sachs’ proposal about how to solve the Syrian refugee problem, but we do believe that each of these articles, when read together, contain important elements of a fuller analysis of the psycho-spiritual and rational foundations of the growing upset at the way the world is structured, and the to-date irrational forms that upset has taken.

–Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor, Tikkun magazine & Chair, the (interfaith and secular-humanist-and-atheist-welcoming) NSP: Network of Spiritual Progressives

Post-Brexit: Imagine a New European Community

by Martin Winiecki, June 26th 2016

The news of Brexit triggered shock waves around the globe, with many people wondering how could the Brits make such a foolish choice. But actually there is good reason why many people in Europe hold the EU in low esteem.

The European Union has alienated countless millions of workers and ordinary people all over the continent; for many “EU” has become the very synonym of a hostile “establishment.” While it began as a progressive project for freedom and solidarity among the peoples of Europe, committed to never again repeat the terrible wars of the 20th century and authentically humane initiatives, the EU has developed into an anti-democratic, neoliberal technocracy with ever decreasing legitimacy and benefit for the people. Preaching noble values of human rights, social democracy and peace, the rulers of the EU have led a scrupulous austerity regime, gradually expanding precarious work conditions for millions. The wide gap between its social rhetoric on the one hand and the implementation of free market policies on the other, gave many people the feeling of being constantly betrayed by an anonymous superstructure, which they cannot participate in or reach out to.

In their blind obedience to the orders from Washington and the corporate world, European leaders have endlessly fooled their people. Whether it is about secretly handing the last remaining democratic powers over to multinationals and abolishing fundamental environmental, consumer and workers rights, as it is prepared to do  in the TTIP negotiations, or about ruining their own countries’ trade by installing economic sanctions against Russia, or about participating in the extremely dangerous deployment of NATO troops to Eastern Europe – there hardly seems to be any demand from the US government, which EU and European leaders would not fulfill, however devastating its consequences for Europe may be. Just how narrow the ideological tolerance within Europe has become, could be seen last week when German foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier courageously dared to condemn the military drills in Eastern Europe as “warmongering” against Russia. As he stated the obvious, he provoked pure outrage from fellow politicians and the media in the Western world.

Or take Greece – a year ago, the EU establishment carried out collective punishment against an entire nation for being so impertinent to demand an exit of the austerity policies. How enthusiastically have countries like Greece, Portugal and Ireland joined the EU, dreaming of economic progress, continental integration and solidarity and how badly have they been impoverished and robbed their sovereignty by being trapped in astronomic debt. However, this is not an issue of Southern vs. Northern Europe, but one of redistributing wealth from the 99% to the 1% throughout Europe, which can be felt by the people from Athens to Liverpool. “Austerity is,” as Chomsky noted, “really class war.”

Capitalist globalization has corroded the social fabric of societies around the world, destroyed solidarity among people and established an anonymous hyper-individualized climate of fierce competition, loneliness and struggle for survival. People are left without any positive prospect for the future, feel constantly cheated on by something or someone who they cannot even precisely name – and immense anger ensues in people’s hearts. People thus readily buy in to the xenophobic propaganda telling who to blame for this situation.

The Brexit vote was in big part the expression of a nationalistic reaction to the alienation of neoliberalism. As they spread fear and tried to make immigrants responsible for the economic failures of the Europe that the EU has shaped,  the  powerful capitalist class (what in the US they call the 1%) provided the foundation for right-wing nationalists to present themselves as “populists” caring about the well-being of those hurt by economic globalization. These right-wing rabble-rousers divert peoples’ attention from the obvious injustice of the economic system. Thereby they turn the genuinely revolutionary potential of people’s anti-establishment sentiment into the most reactionary direction. As liberal and bourgeois parties increasingly lose popular support in the entire Western world, the far right is becoming the most important political power to keep the current system in place. The tension emerging from the extreme levels of inequality, corruption and lack of prospects for large sections of working peopled has become massive in nearly all Western countries today. Societies – both in Europe, North America and basically worldwide. These societies cannot be kept together for much longer on the basis of the existing social, political and economic orders. If we do not want right-wing extremists like Farage, Le Pen, Trump and the likes to take over, another alternative has to become visible worldwide.

In France there have been endless mass protests and strikes against the neoliberal labor reform of President Hollande for months now. It is a resistance of dimensions unheard of in recent decades; a few days ago the police were exhausted from the street battles they asked protesters to give them a break. Some already speak of the “second French Revolution.”

On Sunday, Spaniards will elect a new government; there is a realistic chance the new president will be Pablo Iglesias, the young charismatic political science professor from Madrid leading a creative grassroots movement called “Podemos,” which emerged from the 2011 Indignado protests all over the country. Podemos is an anti-capitalist party; their number one goal is to take down the austerity regime in Spain and across Europe.

In addition, there is the ticking time bomb of the Greek debt crisis, there is a looming global financial meltdown, there is a refugee crisis, which we have not solved but just sealed from our attention. Furthermore we have ecological crises of planetary dimension with existential threats to our survival… Brexit is just a tiny puzzle piece in a much larger process of entropy taking place all over the world – the systems of society, politics, economy, but also of culture and people’s coexistence are bound to disintegrate because they have produced crises that have corroded social cohesion and destroyed our basis of life on this planet.

We live in the beginning phase of a global revolution which will turn societal conditions upside down. We cannot stop this transformation, but we can influence where it will go. Will the disintegration of the globalized systems lead to fascist violence and molecular civil wars as some fear or will it lead to a process of planetary renewal and liberation?

Alongside the collapse of the inevitable old system and rise of right-wing specters, there is another vision for the future. The entropy of the centralized systems of power must not lead to chaos and destruction, but to the emergence of a new type of free society based on autonomous communities. Community is the key word for a humane future in Europe and worldwide. We human beings are communitarian beings in essence, we genuinely thrive to the extent that we are bound with fellow human beings in solidarity and trust. The insanities of today’s late stage capitalism could only be invented and executed by people who have lost their social and ethical anchor. The era we are coming from, the epoch of patriarchy, imperialism and capitalism has systematically destroyed communities and isolated people from one another.

Imagine if the collapse of this system is accompanied by the emergence of new types of communities everywhere – in cities and on the countryside. People would develop an autonomous cultural life; they would organize new networks of regional self-sufficiency and take basic resources back into their own hands, creating authentic forms of bottom-up grassroots democracy. They would develop new forms of social coexistence based on transparency; people would participate in each other’s lives instead of closing their private doors behind them. Imagine people could dare so much truth and compassion among each other that a society would come into being that no longer needs to be kept together by static rules, police and authoritarian structures, but by the quality of life we all most desire: trust.

Imagine a new European community and eventually planetary community will develop, replacing the centralized power systems with an alliance of interconnected autonomous communities setting the foundations for a new epoch based on solidarity among people and cooperation with the powers of nature. Imagine this growing planetary movement would share an essential ethical code and would replace the drive for personal profit with the drive towards participation in and service for the greater benefit of humanity and the Earth. Imagine this movement would gradually dissolve the old nation-states, power blocs and cultural borders. Communities would be home to people from all over the world, including refugees from crisis areas. Once people have again found home in a real community, they no longer need to violently defend the construct of their “fatherland” against people from elsewhere. (Isn’t nationalism anyways just a compensation for the sense of “home” we have lost as humanity!)

In order to start such a transformative movement, we need models which show that a new society based on communitarian coexistence, trust between people and regenerative autonomy is possible. We need places for new types of holistic research to develop the ecological, technological, economic, political, social, spiritual and sexual structures necessary for our society to become once again compatible with life, nature and humanity’s deeper longings and motivations. There already exists an enormous amount of knowledge and solutions in this direction, but they need to be fused into a coherent blueprint, a concept for a new global culture. The Healing Biotopes Plan attempts to introduce such a process of cultural creation.

You say this is too utopian and far-fetched? Well, the more we see the dimensions of the current global crisis we also see the necessity for a fundamental redesign of the way we inhabit this planet. This is not the time to be “realistic” in the narrow conventional sense, because if we think like this we do not even have to begin. It is not the time to think about slow incremental change, but to think about complete revolution, to dare a lot, dream big and see the most beautiful vision of what our world can be. This is what it is to be radical in times of such tremendous transformation.

Evolution does not advance gradually, but in leaps – once a pattern of organization is no longer functional, living systems undergo a period of turbulence until they suddenly leap into a more complex pattern of organization. This is the process we are undergoing as a species right now, the process we are participating in and co-creating. The clearer our vision, the more we can help birth the future we want. We cannot leave this up to some president, institution or guru; nobody else will do it for us. Now is the moment to start building a new humane culture and it begins by seeing its actual possibility.

I’ve written more about this in the Fall 2016 print edition of Tikkun Magazine. I hope you’ll subscribe to Tikkun so you read it there at www.tikkun.org/subscribe.

Martin Winiecki, born in Dresden, Germany in 1990, is a writer, speaker, and coordinator of the Institute for Global Peace Work at Tamera, Portugal.

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The Meaning of Brexit

JEFFREY SACHS
PROJECT SYNDICATE
JUNE 25, 2016

NEW YORK – The Brexit vote was a triple protest: against surging immigration, City of London bankers, and European Union institutions, in that order. It will have major consequences. Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidency will receive a huge boost, as will other anti-immigrant populist politicians. Moreover, leaving the EU will wound the British economy, and could well push Scotland to leave the United Kingdom – to say nothing of Brexit’s ramifications for the future of European integration.

Brexit is thus a watershed event that signals the need for a new kind of globalization, one that could be far superior to the status quo that was rejected at the British polls.

At its core, Brexit reflects a pervasive phenomenon in the high-income world: rising support for populist parties campaigning for a clampdown on immigration. Roughly half the population in Europe and the United States, generally working-class voters, believes that immigration is out of control, posing a threat to public order and cultural norms.

In the middle of the Brexit campaign in May, it was reported that the UK had net immigration of 333,000 persons in 2015, more than triple the government’s previously announced target of 100,000. That news came on top of the Syrian refugee crisis, terrorist attacks by Syrian migrants and disaffected children of earlier immigrants, and highly publicized reports of assaults on women and girls by migrants in Germany and elsewhere.

In the US, Trump backers similarly rail against the country’s estimated 11 million undocumented residents, mainly Hispanic, who overwhelmingly live peaceful and productive lives, but without proper visas or work permits. For many Trump supporters, the crucial fact about the recent attack in Orlando is that the perpetrator was the son of Muslim immigrants from Afghanistan and acted in the name of anti-American sentiment (though committing mass murder with automatic weapons is, alas, all too American).

Warnings that Brexit would lower-income levels were either dismissed outright, wrongly, as mere fear mongering, or weighed against the Leavers’ greater interest in border control. A major factor, however, was implicit class warfare. Working-class “Leave” voters reasoned that most or all of the income losses would in any event be borne by the rich, and especially the despised bankers of the City of London.

Americans disdain Wall Street and its greedy and often criminal behavior at least as much as the British working class disdains the City of London. This, too, suggests a campaign advantage for Trump over his opponent in November, Hillary Clinton, whose candidacy is heavily financed by Wall Street. Clinton should take note and distance herself from Wall Street.

In the UK, these two powerful political currents – rejection of immigration and class warfare – were joined by the widespread sentiment that EU institutions are dysfunctional. They surely are. One need only cite the last six years of mismanagement of the Greek crisis by self-serving, shortsighted European politicians. The continuing euro zone turmoil was, understandably, enough to put off millions of UK voters.

The short-run consequences of Brexit are already clear: the pound has plummeted to a 31-year low. In the near term, the City of London will face major uncertainties, job losses, and a collapse of bonuses. Property values in London will cool. The possible longer-run knock-on effects in Europe – including likely Scottish independence; possible Catalonian independence; a breakdown of free movement of people in the EU; a surge in anti-immigrant politics (including the possible election of Trump and France’s Marine Le Pen) – are enormous. Other countries might hold referendums of their own, and some may choose to leave.

In Europe, the call to punish Britain pour encourager les autres – to warn those contemplating the same – is already rising. This is European politics at its stupidest (also very much on display vis-à-vis Greece). The remaining EU should, instead, reflect on its obvious failings and fix them. Punishing Britain – by, say, denying it access to Europe’s single market – would only lead to the continued unraveling of the EU.

So what should be done? I would suggest several measures, both to reduce the risks of catastrophic feedback loops in the short-term and to maximize the benefits of reform in the long-term.

First, stop the refugee surge by ending the Syrian war immediately. This can be accomplished by ending the CIA-Saudi alliance to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, thereby enabling Assad (with Russian and Iranian backing) to defeat the Islamic State and stabilize Syria (with a similar approach in neighboring Iraq). America’s addiction to regime change (in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria) is the deep cause of Europe’s refugee crisis. End the addiction, and the recent refugees could return home.

Second, stop NATO’s expansion to Ukraine and Georgia. The new Cold War with Russia is another US-contrived blunder with plenty of European naiveté attached. Closing the door on NATO expansion would make it possible to ease tensions and normalize relations with Russia, stabilize Ukraine, and restore focus on the European economy and the European project.

Third, don’t punish Britain. Instead, police national and EU borders to stop illegal migrants. This is not xenophobia, racism, or fanaticism. It is common sense that countries with the world’s most generous social-welfare provisions (Western Europe) must say no to millions (indeed hundreds of millions) of would-be migrants. The same is true for the US.

Fourth, restore a sense of fairness and opportunity for the disaffected working class and those whose livelihoods have been undermined by financial crises and the outsourcing of jobs. This means following the social-democratic ethos of pursuing ample social spending for health, education, training, apprenticeships, and family support, financed by taxing the rich and closing tax havens, which are gutting public revenues and exacerbating economic injustice. It also means finally giving Greece debt relief, thereby ending the long-running euro zone crisis.

Fifth, focus resources, including additional aid, on economic development, rather than war, in low-income countries. Uncontrolled migration from today’s poor and conflict-ridden regions will become overwhelming, regardless of migration policies, if climate change, extreme poverty, and lack of skills and education undermine the development potential of Africa, Central America and the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

All of this underscores the need to shift from a strategy of war to one of sustainable development, especially by the US and Europe. Walls and fences won’t stop millions of migrants fleeing violence, extreme poverty, hunger, disease, droughts, floods, and other ills. Only global cooperation can do that.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/meaning-of-brexit-by-jeffrey-d-sachs-2016-06

 


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