Humans have historically organized themselves into ever-widening groups: from clans to tribes to city-states, and, in our era, to nation-states. This has served humanity by replacing competition with cooperation regarding the resources for survival. The European Union (EU) is one such coalition of groups – the nation-states of Europe – intended to eliminate the national economic competitions that culminated in two horrific world wars.
Simultaneous with this political advance came another coalescing factor: the globalization of the capitalist economic system. Through the development of multinational corporations and trade agreements allowing the free flow of capital and goods across all borders, the power of the nation-state has been eroded by the transcendent power of global capital. This evolution has created a new socio-economic paradigm to which all people and nations are subject and beyond whose reach – because it is global – there is no survival.
The stability – or success – of an economic system is contingent upon its ability to serve society. Today, any alert person is aware of the ongoing crisis of global capitalism evidenced by, among other symptoms, the de-industrialization of once leading nations, the worldwide wage-employment problem, the impoverishment of public institutions resulting in harsh austerity programs wreaking misery on the masses, the depletion of sovereign funds threatening national collapse (as in Greece), and the social fallout of historical inequality. Add to this plight of the people the most massive migrations in generations, and you have the makings of the perfect political storm. Where to turn when you're barely making a living and a swarm of immigrants vie for your job and a piece of the national treasury you depend upon?
Such is the case, to a greater or lesser extent, in developed nations such as the United Kingdom (UK) – the first to respond dramatically to intolerable economic conditions exacerbated by immigration. What was the solution of the Brits, perhaps blinded by their history of power that no longer exists? Stop playing the cooperation game and retreat into the old paradigm – as if it were possible to move backward and extricate oneself from the rule of global capital! Even leaders of Brexit (who were playing political games with the movement and never expected the exit vote), abashed at what they have wrought, are backtracking and running for cover.
But the sad thing for the British people, who fantasized achieving economic autonomy when they voted for Brexit, is that nothing will change for them. They incorrectly equated the EU with global capital and thought that shedding the union was a simultaneous release from the restraints of the global system. However, since there is now no economic system except global capitalism, the real story of Brexit is in what happens after disillusionment sets in, as it must. Will the people see the real enemy not in increasing unification of nations and people, but in a faltering world economic system that poisons such progress and to which they are necessarily subject? Effective opposition to a global system must be global and cannot reside in any isolated nation-state.
Only clarity of vision through accurate analysis can create a politics of social ascendancy, equity and well-being. And Brexit is woefully not that.