The aftershocks of the Brexit earthquake are reverberating throughout the towns of Britain, the boardrooms of corporations and the capitals of Europe. The first casualty has been Prime Minister David Cameron, who has bequeathed the country a divided legacy.
The immediate benefactors are the hard-line Tory eurosceptics and the far right. The anti-Corbyn coup threatens to leave the progressive left virtually moribund.
Waves of xenophobia have been unleashed. Vitriolic tabloids have helped to whip it up. But Cameron's government must bear the bulk of responsibility. They spent six years exploiting anti-migrant rhetoric to divert blame from their austerity policies. These are the real causes of enforced misery and poverty, not immigration.
The sea-change, though, follows several months anti-immigration rhetoric. When the Prime Minister speaks of "swarms" of migrants and Michael Gove states that "people in this country have had enough of experts" we should be worried.
When prominent political figures dehumanise immigrants, it gives the green light for ordinary people to do the same. What has been uncorked will be very difficult to contain. This could be the initial eruption of a much bigger political volcano.
Marine Le Pen is now demanding Frexit – an EU referendum for France. Brexit could thus be the first step in the disintegration of the EU – unless the EU can rapidly democratise. Its internal contradictions mean it is unlikely to be capable of the drastic reform required to save it.
That would mean the European Commission becoming directly electable and accountable. It would mean Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations not being held behind closed doors. It would mean an end to a neoliberal, corporate EU and a return to the original post-war European project of social democracy.
Brexit might just be the rupture that forces this question. And it is a question of class war waged by the global elite against ordinary people. As with any seismic event, the tremors have been building up for decades. There is no pretending we can go back to the status quo, because it is dysfunctional beyond repair.
Who stands to lose out from Brexit and the break-up of the EU? Certainly the global ruling elite. But also the upper echelons benefiting from the current arrangement.
Neoliberal globalisation is not working for millions. This was a howl of rage from working-class communities devastated and left behind by decades of neoliberal policies including deindustrialisation. It was a roar of anger vented against elites framed in the discourse of immigration.
And what does Brexit even mean? Assuming that anyone dares to pull the trigger of Article 50, there is one thing that markets really hate and that is uncertainty. Business may not invest. Jobs may be lost. A real Brexit, as postulated by Ukip, would mean Britain out of the single market in order to opt out of freedom of movement of labour. Such nationalism and economic protectionism would lead to a downturn and could catapult the far-right into a power-sharing arrangement.
Triggering Article 50 is akin to pressing a nuclear button. It is likely to irretrievably damage the City of London, break-up the UK, lead to the unravelling of the EU and cause economic turmoil. In a sense, it is mutually assured destruction
We are seeing the same polarisation in the United States with the possibility of Donald Trump becoming president after promising to ban Muslims from travelling to the country and to build a wall at the border with Mexico. France's National Front is ahead of next year's elections. Austria could still elect the first far-right leader in post-war Europe after the initial result was annulled. Hungary has an authoritarian government. Poland's ruling party is anti-immigration. After Brexit, surely all bets are off.
The only hope is that this rage is channelled into a progressive anti-neoliberal mass movement. The alternative would mean the return of fascism to Europe. Nearly a hundred years ago, a young Russian said, “There are decades where nothing happens and there are weeks where decades happen." That Russian was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov – also known as Lenin. History never ended after the collapse of communism. But it has now returned with a vengeance.
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