Ancillary Lessons from Brexit


Apart from the substantive issues for the European elites of the Brexit referendum victory, two ancillary lessons have been thrust upon us, if we were not already wise to them.

One, the contemptible character of the mainstream media. Two, the crucial importance of historical understanding.

The mainstream media

One, the elite mainstream media, especially the financial media, is intolerable. Tabloids of and for the opinion makers. If one has been inclined to put a peg on the nose and tolerate the smell for the odd bit of useful information, the Brexit coverage should surely show that the daily sacrifice is not worth the candle.

Universal hysteria has reigned. It has been a tsunami of shit.

This from the super smug Financial Times:

“Britain takes a leap into the dark. …Britain’s decision to leave the EU is the biggest shock to the continent since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”

The bloody dismantlement of Yugoslavia and the financial coup d’État in Greece were apparently of minor significance.

The Economist, if at times sober, declaimed:

“After the vote, chaos. … June 23rd will be a landmark in British and European history.”

John Lloyd (a contributing editor at the Financial Times no less) blesses Reuters readers with a condescending inconsequential piece titled “… the chaos that will be felt around the world”. Well no it won’t.

Said the Guardian, now running on empty:

“Britain was heading into a period of unprecedented political, constitutional and economic crisis on Saturday night as European leaders stepped up demands for it to quit the EU as soon as possible.”

Beyond ground zero, other countries’ MSM joined in the shock horror clamor.

This from France’s L’Obs (formerly Le Nouvel Observateur), just before the vote:

“Après le Brexit, l’apocalypse?”

And on 24 June:

“Un suicide économique: après le Brexit, la City se réveille en panique”

France’s MSM is now overwhelmingly the plaything of the mega-rich. L’Obs could do well to hone in on the economic suicide perpetrated on its own turf.

Down under, in the colonies, The Sydney Morning Herald (deteriorating by the week with large-scale retrenchment of seasoned staff), dutifully reproduces whatever Anglo-America is saying. Thus the Washington Post appears, with:

“Brexit vote raises global recession fears”

Tabloid-style front page graphics inform us of:

“Anarchy in the UK … Broken Britain as the world reels”

The pot has been simmering, suppressed

Broken Britain indeed. The geographical distribution of the voting patterns highlights a predictable disparity that wasn’t generated the day before yesterday.

The afore-mentioned John Lloyd, from his Oxonian watchtower, declaims (of Scotland and Northern Ireland, but of general application):

“London and the southeast region generate the surplus they help to spend.”

What? As the City funnels its lucre to tax haven satellites (the Channel Islands aptly named), the regions will be appreciative of Lloyd setting the record straight on their mendicancy.

Here is the fundamental problem of the frenzy. The Brexit vote merely reflects a pre-existing condition. Why the supposed shock reaction?

The shock is because ‘the masses are revolting!’ They are supposed to know their place. We, the quality MSM, tell them what’s what, we set the agenda. That we report selectively, that we lie to them as a matter of principle, this is none of their business. It’s their role to take their medicine and be grateful. The universal franchise has been a problem from the beginning; we thought we had it under control, and these wretched people don’t know the rules. Non-stop propaganda not entirely successful, disenfranchisement here we come.

MSM failings have led to the birth of media watch outfits like the British Medialens and the French Acrimed. And now, praise the Lord, we have Off-Guardian, product of the precipitous decline of that once admirable masthead. Off-Guardian nails the MSM’s hysteria:

“You’d be forgiven for thinking that the referendum had been for turning off the sun, banning talking, or killing the first born son of every family in Britain…rather than a return to a state of affairs that has existed for all but the last 40 years of human history. Such is the level of the destruction.”

Thank you and goodnight to the ‘quality’ MSM.

Washington to the rescue?

Before moving on, there appeared an instructive piece emanating from the colonial cringe-worthy political culture in Australia, courtesy of a local academic ‘defense expert’, Stephen Fruehling. We discover that the evil Putin, everybody’s anti-Christ, is the major beneficiary of Brexit: The cad!

“Brexit is a great setback for the security of the Western world … [Fruehling] branded the successful exit vote a victory for Russia, which under Vladimir Putin has been trying to drive wedges into Europe. For Russia, this is a great win as it demonstrates that the institutions that hold together the West are cracking, and can be prised apart … Russia … will be encouraged to step up its corrosive and subversive influence on domestic debates in the EU member states.

Critically for Australia, it would leave Washington less time to focus on its ‘pivot’ to Asia. The turmoil to come can only reinforce the recent tendency of US re-engagement with Europe on the security front. Washington now has yet another crisis to manage in Europe, and will have even less time for allies in Asia.”

‘Washington now has yet another crisis to manage in Europe’? Has our expert let something out of the bag here?

(Real) history matters

But on to issue two – the importance of historical understanding.

Escaping from harsh reality, I was recently watching a re-run of the BBC B-grade copper sitcom, New Tricks, and there was handed down a word of advice from a petty crim to an honest- ex-cop trying to reclaim his integrity from a murky past.

“The past is a foreign country. It’s not a tourist destination. I should leave well enough alone if I were you!”

Quite. And an elitist catechism of general applicability. Leave history to your betters. Control the past and it’s easier to dictate the present.

It’s true that the European Union has been a scapegoat for what Conn Hallinan calls ‘a very British affair’. But the palaver confidently handed down from the MSM over Brexit has universally steered clear of the disaster that is the European Union. A few minor problems, slow to recover after the GFC blah, a refugee tide coming from a whacko sectarian bloodbath nothing to do with us, plebeian xenophobes thrusting for attention, etc.

The strategic myopia, the dishonesty regarding the stench emanating from Brussels is comprehensive. And that’s before TAFTA is promulgated.

The conventional wisdom is that (Inigo Thomas, LRB): “The European Union was formed with the idea of diminishing the power of any country to wage war; the nation state was believed to be part of the problem.” In this regard, Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman are credited as key visionaries and progenitors of economic integration, the ‘fathers’ of the European Union.

The New York Times’ Roger Cohen, long time European correspondent, has been an ardent expositor of this line, allowing him to blithely ignore the trajectory of Europe’s damnable flaws.

But the creation of the European Union didn’t prevent war; it merely pushed it elsewhere, with the connivance of the EU’s leadership. This neglected point has been recently highlighted by Joseph Richardson on this site. Europe’s integration into NATO, and its subservience to US imperatives therein, guarantees the institutional artillery for endless aggression. A collectivity of states can wage war as well as a single nation state, indeed with more intemperance, especially under a belligerent hegemon.

What price the conventional wisdom?

A century down the track from World War I has prompted re-examination of its origins and after-effects. Recent cathartic events within Europe (the debacle of Greece, the refugee influx, Brexit) provide the incentive for a re-examination of the origins of the EU.

By coincidence, I happen to be reading Alexander Werth’s France: 1940-1955 (published in 1956). Werth, a Russian-born English journalist, long-time Moscow correspondent, was by then living in France. He is an unjustly neglected author. Werth’s account of post-War French politics is minutely detailed and iconoclastic.

Monnet’s Plan of December 1945 was designed to engineer faster French re-industrialization. It was integrally dependent on German coal (and incidentally German prisoners of war/peace), which involved simultaneously limiting German re-industrialization. In effect, Versailles redux. The results were paltry, not least because Monnet’s ideas (especially regarding French agriculture) were fanciful.

By mid-1948, the agenda was essentially being set by the US, and Monnet fell into line. The priority was to bring what was to become West Germany into the Western camp – vehicle for the West’s own Iron Curtain. The scene was set with the March 1948 Treaty of Brussels which established the Western European Union (France, Britain, Benelux). France’s attempt to appropriate and/or dominate the German coalfields permanently (the Ruhr, the Saar) could no longer be tolerated.

In mid-1949 the US government instructed Schuman, then French Foreign Secretary, that he had to come up with a plan to deal with the German coal problem. Schuman handed the job to Monnet, who handed it to his bureaucrats. Thus was devised the so-called Schuman Plan, which appeared in ‘bare skeleton’ form in May 1950. This was the beginning of the coal-steel pool, to become the European Coal and Steel Community. There appeared for the first time the idea of a federalist Europe and of the creation of supra-national authorities.

The mis-named ECSC was compromised from the start, as Britain (major coal miner and steel maker) declined to join it. Some French envisaged the creation of a ‘third force’ industrial powerhouse that would balance the US and the Eastern bloc. That idea readily succumbed to US interests and British concerns for its sovereignty.

Schuman and Monnet consulted no-one in the French government, and parliament had no idea. The government, parliament and the public were hostile to the plan. Schuman and Monnet themselves were out of their depth. With the US in Korea, the Schuman Plan soon became integrally linked to US pressure for Western European re-militarization through the creation of a supra-national European army, to include German troops.

In late 1950, the US was even considering incorporating Spain into defense of the ‘free world’. The cynics quipped: “If Syngman Rhee, why not Franco?”.

France was naturally opposed, for economic as well as security reasons. ‘Neutralism’ (the then buzz word) was France’s ‘sound instinct of self-preservation’. West Germany at that stage preferred emphasis on the return of its sovereignty and on re-industrialization. So much for facilitating Franco-German cooperation.

Werth reproduces an excerpt from the French press in April 1948, foreshadowing this trajectory:

“The transformation of the Marshall Plan into a Holy Alliance against Communism means that priority is to be given to military aid, and that the European countries will also be expected to increase their military expenditure, thus adding to their inflation. Secondly, it means the intensification of the Cold War. … What its advocates represented a few months ago as America’s way of saving peace at the lowest possible price has now become one of the greatest war dangers since the Liberation.”

But France was broke, thankful for Marshall Aid, bogged down in Indochina (hoping for American support there), and the US and Britain were relentless. In September 1950, President Truman and Secretary of State Acheson announced that Europe had to have sixty divisions, ten of them German. British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, speaking for Britain, immediately fell into line. Ditto Schuman, speaking for himself.

The Pleven Government buckled in its proposed 1951 budget, with a planned 75 per cent increase in military expenditure, to the detriment of civil infrastructure. The Radical Party deputy Pierre Mendès-France was excoriating of the government. He noted, citing the truncated original Monnet Plan, that industrial robustness was a precondition for military preparedness and to prioritize military spending would entrench France’s then economic fragility.

By 1953, the French leadership thought that the idea of a European army was dead. The Americans thought otherwise. In January Life magazine brutally lampooned French politics (the American media has been doing it ever since). The incoming Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, known on the continent as ‘Europe’s Bully No 1’, exclaimed (Werth):

“The USA had already spent thirty billion dollars in Europe since the war, and this money had been ‘invested’ in the hope that Europe would achieve unity. But if it was found that France, Britain, and Germany were each to go their own way, it would be necessary to ‘give a little re-thinking’ to America’s policy in Europe.”

In October, a speech by Churchill to the Party faithful, drippingly condescending to the French, claimed that Germany would be rearmed, with or without the proposed European Defence Community.

As the French noted, Britain refuses to be integrated in Europe but wants to dictate, with its US masters, the terms on which France has to do so. The clip from Yes Minister  currently doing the rounds has substance behind the farce.

De Gaulle responded in a November speech, contemptuous and prescient:

“Since victorious France has an army and defeated Germany has none [he parodied Monnet] let us suppress the French Army. After that we shall make a stateless army of Frenchmen and Germans, and since there must be a government above this army, we shall make a stateless government, a technocracy. As this may not please everybody, we’ll paint a new shop sign and call it ‘community’; it won’t matter, anyway, because the ‘European Army’ will be placed at the entire disposal of the American Commander-in-Chief.”

On the contrary, de Gaulle considered that it was time to revive the Franco-Russian alliance, given that they remained formal allies. That recommendation went down like the proverbial …

At the December 1953 Bermuda Conference, the French Prime Minister Laniel and Foreign Minister Bidault were profoundly humiliated by Churchill. Eisenhower demanded that the EDC be ratified by 15 March. More, just when finally France wanted to sue for peace in Indochina, the US insisted that it was moving in there itself. Following the Bermuda Conference:

“The demand that EDC be ratified without delay became increasingly peremptory. The agitation against EDC in France became correspondingly more violent. …

“… despite assurances, promises and other ways of keeping the United States in an at least relatively good humour, all the French governments from the end of 1950 (Pleven Plan) till the actual rejection of EDC in 1954, knew that at no time was there a majority in the National Assembly or in the country, to sanction EDC.

“If finally, in 1955, German rearmament was agreed to in a different form, it was only because of two years of ever-growing American and especially British pressure and threats, which, it was thought, could no longer be ignored.”

Mendès-France became Prime Minister in June 1954. By now he feared for France’s isolation from the Atlantic Alliance and sought a compromise proposal in August from his Cabinet on the EDC. Bitter conflict resulted in a series of protocols qualifying the original, which Mendès-France took to the Six-Power Conference in Brussels. Mendès-France was confronted by “a general Anglo-American-German gang-up”, supported by the Belgian Conference Chair Paul-Henri Spaak and the Dutch Foreign Minister Johan Beyen. The protocols were laughed out of court. Spaak concluded the conference (at. 2.35 am) with:

“The failure of this conference is a catastrophe. France will be completely isolated. There will be an EDC without her. Western Germany will rearm … We must, must make Europe. The military side isn’t everything. What matters more is the integration of Europe. EDC is only a step in that direction, but if there is no EDC, then everything falls to the ground …”

Mendès-France defied the will of the Conference gang and immediately took the EDC issue to the Assembly, which chucked the whole thing out again “in a stormy and highly emotional debate”.

There was more fury from the foreign press. Churchill told Mendès-France that Germany would be rearmed within NATO if necessary.

Instructive is the fact that the Nazi General Carl Oberg, supreme overseer in France of Jewish deportations and repression of the Resistance, already condemned to death by a British court, was being tried again in October 1954. If the trial’s disclosures reinforced French public hostility to German rearmament, it was of no interest to Britain or to the US. Earlier in 1954 the British Foreign Office, via the Lord Chancellor, had attempted to prevent the publication of Bertrand Russell’s The Scourge of the Swastika. This skirmish was part of a propaganda battle being waged in Britain over official attempts to forge West Germany as an ally amongst civilized nations.

In June the Guatemalan President Jacobo Árbenz was overthrown by a US-engineered coup. Le Monde, in September, likened Mendès-France to Árbenz and France as a United Fruit Republic.

In October, the Paris agreements were signed over France’s ‘head’, legitimizing the rearmament and sovereignty of West Germany. On Friday 24 December, Mendès-France took the ratification bill authorizing a German army to the Assembly, which the Assembly promptly rejected. With more fury from London and Washington. Noted Werth, the British Foreign Office “had gone off the deep end”. The Assembly’s Foreign Affairs Committee also rejected the bill.

During the next week, the Assembly debated for three days. A wise voice said that rearmament was now by the by; the priority henceforth was to stop the bomb! By that stage, exhaustion and resignation had set in. Mendès-France got his ratification bill passed by a bare margin. Having got France out of Indochina, Mendès-France couldn’t bridge the massive gulf between France and its dictatorial ‘allies’. He was out of office within two months.

The EU a Cold War project

In short, the European Union has its origins not in the mutual thrust for economic cooperation and harmonization of interests but as an American-Anglo Cold War project.

West Germany was to be the core of Cold War Europe, and France was to become frankly irrelevant. West Germany (later a unified Germany) became an Atlantic Alliance satrap but in return obtained carte blanche to become, by whatever means, the industrial and economic powerhouse of the Union. More, it would dictate the terms on which closer economic integration took place. France got, as consolation prize … the Common Agricultural Policy.

And sixty years later? For all its evolution, the EU remains a Cold War project. The ex-Soviet satellites – Eastern Europe and the Baltic states – were incorporated into the Union within that ambit. NATO, the replacement for the ultimately unachievable EDC, dictates military and even foreign policy imperatives. Europe bowed to, facilitated, the dismantlement of Yugoslavia. Europe kowtows to US dictates regarding sanctions on Russia over the Magnitsky Affair and then over the Russian response to the coup in Ukraine.

To European subordination to ongoing American-Anglo Cold War against Russia is added its subordination to American-Anglo (plus Israeli) imperatives in the Middle East. Thus Europe signs up for the sanctions against Iran.

The economic cost to European national economies of these sanctions has been significant. For example, it has been estimated that France’s cancellation of the Mistral carriers that it was building for Russia will cost it ultimately losses of the order of €2 billion. France’s loss of markets (especially for autos) in Iran has been significant.

Then there’s the refugee tidal wave, mostly courtesy of those same imperatives. This is the cost of Europe’s subordination, and it is incalculable. And its leaders have yet to put 2 + 2 together.

Out of the blue, the German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has broken ranks, and said, ‘enough is enough’. Is there a sign of a rare rationality amongst the European leadership in the wings?

Lessons from Brexit

This story is removed from the Brexit front line, but it is a large elephant in the room.

Which particular European Union does the Remain coalition and its Continental supporters have in mind when they imply that the European status quo is the greatest thing since sliced bread? And with what conception of Europe will they fight to overturn Brexit?

The Brexit catharsis provides the ideal opportunity to re-examine the history and character of the European Union. No whitewashes this time around please. With this prospect, the mainstream media, on its wretched record, has automatically disqualified itself from the job.

Evan Jones is a retired political economist from the University of Sydney. He can be reached

Evan Jones is a retired political economist from the University of Sydney. He can be reached