In June 2016 voters in the UK, once the largest and most powerful colonial power on earth, voted for a Brexit — for Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU). Media pundits proclaimed the ‘yes’ vote as a vote fuelled by far-right xenophobia — supposedly, the statistics showed that the ‘yes’ vote was driven mostly by the not so highly educated working class, those that blame their relative decline of their standard of living on competition brought about by immigration, open borders and the flood of refugees. In short, the Brexit vote, according to the ‘experts’, was an isolationist and xenophobic vote — a vote for a wall of some sort. In many ways, this is true — the far-right in the UK exploited the increasingly insecure working class and sinisterly pointed their anger against a convenient scapegoat: the invading foreigners. The solution: let’s quit the world and build a wall — Britain is great and it needs no one!
Besides the fact that the misguided working class will not find their salvation in isolationism, the “leave us alone” tendency of the British blue collar populace is ironic, to say the least. Beyond ironic, this sentiment is nothing short of hypocrisy and utter disrespect to millions of people that have been exploited for centuries. A nation that for centuries knew no walls and respected no borders — back when it pillaged four continents, from the riches of Africa to the treasures of Indochina and the entire Indian subcontinent, is now crying foul, demanding a wall and asking to be left alone.
France, another powerhouse (and a former colonial superpower), is also now crying foul. The likes of Marie Le Pen (the far right leader of the National Front party), for example, proclaims that the vast majority of refugees (from Syria, Iraq, and North Africa) are not fleeing political persecution, but are actually pursuing financial wealth. In other words, these refugees are ‘economic refugees’ that not only will take jobs from French workers, but they will cost the state money it is already trying to squeeze of out of its generous social services. Len Pen forgot how legions of North Africans originally came to be in France. Most are in fact grandchildren of employees brought into France from old colonies for cheap labor, labor that took on tasks and wages that are beneath the French working force. Many have also escaped countries the French fighter jets were bombing and robbing (and still do, by the way), from Chad to Sierra Leone to more recently Libya — where pillaging of most of its rich oil and gas reserves has been going on for years. But the French, like their colonial brothers in the UK, apparently like walls that are built in one direction.
The same can be said of Germany, which in the 1960s made an agreement to bring hundreds of thousands from Turkey to work in low paying factory and mining jobs — jobs that most Germans wouldn’t take. The far right (such as the AfD) which has also been on the rise, is now demanding a reverse of pro-immigration policies. The xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment is also on the rise in Italy, Belgium, as well as some of the Nordic countries.
Indeed, this phenomenon has reached the land of immigrants itself (not sure if the early settlers of the United States had proper legal papers when they came in). Shortly after the Brexit, Donald J. Trump was nominated by the Republican Party as their presidential candidate for the presidency of the United States, by far the wealthiest and most powerful nation on earth today. Central to Trump’s ascendance to the helm of (and in spite of the elites of) the Republican Party was a wall — in this case a physical wall that will supposedly save his nation from the flood of illegal immigrants coming from the South — immigrants that he painted as criminals, rapists, and people taking jobs from (and thus forcing a stagnation of wages of) US workers. Trump literally crushed a long list of well connected, well funded, and by far much more experienced and connected politicians by cunningly speaking to the same archetype of the UK folks who voted for a Brexit: the millions of moderately educated working class many of which are always a few months of unemployment away from poverty.
Again, the increasing army of depressed blue collar workers were exploited and convinced that the source of their misery is (illegal) immigrants — foreigners taking their jobs and putting a burden on social services. And again, the solution is obvious: isolationism (“leave us alone”). This simplistic message worked: apparently the number of this disenfranchised group was large enough to easily put Trump at the top. (Incidentally, like the Brits ignore the fact that they saw no walls and respected no borders when they conquered and pillaged millions of people abroad — it will do Mr. Trump some good doing some research on what the US has done in the countries to the South — the countries he is now blaming for the problems of his perfect democracy!)
From the UK to France and Germany and the United States, the demise of the middle class by years of crony capitalism — spearheaded by a corporate-owned neoliberal elite — has led to a very volatile and polarized political landscape, one that has been driving the working class to extreme politics. Naturally, this has led to the rise of opportunist populist movements and politicians that are feeding on (and encouraging) a xenophobic, racist and isolationist trend. But this expected. In fact, I believe this trend will continue and it will get much uglier, much darker, and could also result in racial and ethnic violence. The sad part of all of this is that the same working class that is cheering on for populist and opportunist politicians on the far-right are themselves the victims, much like the immigrants they loath. Both are victims of a capitalist system that pits them against each other — a system that sees in the former consumers and in the latter cheap labor – no more, no less.
I say this trend will continue, but not forever. Although the conditions are not yet ripe for an overhaul of the entire system, time is definitely not on the side of the neoliberal corporate elite. The multinational corporate order and the people that work for them (presidents, prime ministers, senators, members of parliaments, etc.) still have a few tricks in their bags, few wars that can be triggered, and a handful of countries that can still be pillaged, but the clock is running because there are no more real solutions. The point of ultimate contradiction that will self destruct capitalism is quite near. Inventing another ISIS or speaking of building walls or triggering new wars are not going to save a flawed and inhumane system. Why? Because capitalism has ran out of ways to sustain a middle class and to give a better future for 100’s and 100’s of millions of young and globally connected and well educated generation. The production surplus has reached near maximum and technology is making production ever more efficient, needing much less labor, even much less highly skilled labor (very soon technologies like Artificial Intelligence will replace even accountants, many doctors, engineers, etc.). In Marxist terms, the real ‘value’ that capitalism needs to accumulate wealth (capital) is fast reaching a value near zero (there is no value in people just exchanging commodities with each other— the real value and source of increased capital is labor applied in production of commodities, and human labor — whether cheap labor or not — is fast becoming valueless!)
So for Le Pen, for Mr. Trump and the rest of their ilk: walls were never feared or respected on this human village we call earth, and walls cannot ever be built in this highly connected human web. Your anger will only distract progress, but it will not stop it.
For the (far) left, you will not drive change by a humanistic argument and by raising clenched fists. You are not and never were supposed to be a religion trying to save humanity. The argument you should engage in should be scientific and analytic. You should simply describe to your fellow humans the reality of the system they are living in, and let education and knowledge create the awareness needed for a new human being to take over when the walls of an unjust system finally fall.
Walid Saba is co-founder of Klangoo.