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De-evolutioning with Brexit and Trump: Where Marx went wrong

Ananya Bordoloi

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The Brexit and Trump vote demonstrates a drastic incongruity with Marx’s prediction of a “proletariat revolution” that would “destroy all previous insecurities for, and insurance of, individual property”.However, he stands corrected in the notion that the bourgeoisie “creates a world in its own image”through the inevitable expansion of capitalism globally. This is essentially the argument of this paper.Firstly, this paper discusses the points in which Marx is proven right – creation and expansion of a world market and periodical commercial crises that “threaten the existence of bourgeois property [and society]”– which this paper argues as factors that provide some explanation for the Brexit and Trump vote. Secondly, it concentrates on the conceptof “populist nationalism” that Marx had failed to acknowledge in his conception of a proletariat revolution. Finally, this paper concludes by shedding light on Marx’s concept of “false consciousness” based on the model of “social totality” to reconcile Marx’s failure.

Trump my (B)Exit

Creation and expansion of a world market

Marx argues that capitalism is cosmopolitan in nature due to its constant need of an expanding market for its products. The bourgeoisie, who are the rulers of a capitalist society, achieve this market expansion by rapidly improving all instruments of production and facilitating means of communication that eventually force nations and populations to “adopt bourgeois mode of production”. This has been the exact trajectory of modern capitalist society with rapid expansion of bourgeois ideology through establishments such as the World Trade Organisation, International Monetary Fund and the World Bank that promote neoliberal policies, such as market deregulation, exchange rate management and free trade, making what Marx calls “nations of peasants”, i.e. developing nations dependent on “nations of bourgeois”,i.e. developed nations.

This cosmopolitan nature of capitalism that allows cross border economic activity between nations in distinct stages of development brings about “economic insecurity” amongst the working class, i.e. the proletariat, who do not own the means of production as the bourgeois do, are regarded as a commodity and are therefore exposed to market competition and fluctuation. Brexit and Trump vote can be understood to an extent through this framework of economic insecurity faced by the proletariat in both the UK and the US due to expansion of a world market. Brexit voters were those “without jobs or retired”. A report by NatCen(2016) shows that 59% of Leave voters belonged to the working class, i.e. the proletariat, and 84% of those who voted to Leave believe that the economy will be better off after Brexit. Similarly, Trump voters were America’s “industrial working class” which included low-waged unskilled workers, poorer white populations, the long-term unemployed and households dependent on shrinking social benefits. Both set of voters were “economic losers” of the world market and their votes gave them “political victories over the economic winners for the first time since the WWII”.

Periodical commercial crises that threaten bourgeois society

The capitalist system is periodically hit by commercial crises that result in an “epidemic of overproduction” which threatens the existence of bourgeois society. The 2008 financial crisis is a recent example of a commercial crisis faced by capitalist society that threatened its existence. Bourgeois institutions such as large multinational banks produced debt that threatened bourgeois property and society as well as the proletariat. While proletariat jobs were lost, and their communities drowned in debt created by these bourgeois institutions, the institutions themselves were rewarded for their greed and failure by the bourgeois state through expensive bail outs, the cost of which was incurred by proletariat taxpayers in the UK and the US. British banks received a staggering 850 billion pounds from the government with the eventual cost to taxpayers not yet known.The US government on the other hand committed 16.8 trillion dollars towards the bailout with 4.6 trillion already paid out.

Furthermore, Marx argues that the bourgeoisie overcome these periodical crises by “the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones”.The fact that the bourgeois mode of production continues to conquest new markets and exploit old ones regardless of the 2008 financial crisis, that indebted the proletariat drastically and cushioned the failure of the bourgeoisie, proves Marx right. Brexit and Trump can be understood as the collective frustration of an economically dispossessed proletariat of both nations who have put their foot down as a class against “free-market fundamentalism” promoted by the bourgeoisie. Thus, there appears a “national struggle [in the US and the UK] between classes” and since “every class struggle is a political struggle” the phenomena of Brexit and Trump has emerged.

The above analysis of Marx’s arguments regarding creation and expansion of a world market and periodical economic crises demonstrate that these were factors that played a key role in the Brexit and Trump vote. An expanding world market spread the bourgeois ideology worldwide and created a capitalist society which produced economic losers (Brexit and Trump voters) that were exploited by the economic winners (the professional elite of the UK and the US). In terms of economic crises, Marx was proven right in predicting that they would occur, i.e. the 2008 financial crisis, as well as be overcome through further exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie and its institution, i.e. the bailout and its cost that was incurred by the proletariat.

While these factors explain why the Brexit and Trump vote occurred, they do not fully encapsulate the nuances in both phenomena. Although it seems that the status quo of capitalist society has been shaken due to the Brexit and Trump vote, it is nowhere close to the proletariat revolution that Marx had predicted.

Nationalism – Pop my Rock and Rock my Pop

The “revolutionary class”, which is the proletariat, was to “alter the system of class rule”. However, what has occurred due to both phenomena is a political revolution which only changed the form of governmentwhile keeping the bourgeois society intact. This is because Marx failed to acknowledge the crucial factor and powerful rhetoric of populist nationalism.

Critics of Marx argue that he underestimated the bourgeois state which he believed would “wither away in its internal dimension, i.e. vis-à-vis society”. An example of this underestimation of the state is nationalism – an ideology that has “persistently proved itself superior to class loyalties as a means of mobilising mass support, amongst oppressed and oppressor alike”. Nationalism played a pivotal role in the vote for Brexit and Trump – with Leave voters rejecting the branding of “cosmopolitan, creative and united Britain as a part of a happy vision of globalization” in favour of “cultural cohesion” and “old fashioned notion of sovereignty” and Trump supporters favouring national sovereignty and tradition over cosmopolitanism and modernisation. The similarities between reasons supported by both set of voters is uncanny and distinctly demonstrates how nationalism is an extremely powerful ideology that can override class allegiances and sway the proletariat, who are the losers of an expanding world market, to make emotive decisions based on national solidarity that achieve little in dismantling the bourgeois state and society.

In the luminary work ‘Future of Europe’, prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic recognises that: “The over-financialization and hyper-deregulations of the global(-ized) markets has brought the low-waged Chinese (peasant converted into a) worker into the spotlight of industrialized nations. … That’s how the world’s last cosmopolitan – Europe departed from the world of work, and that’s why the Continent today cannot orient itself(both  needed to identify a challenge, as well as to calibrate and jointly redefine the EU path).To orient, one need to center itself: Without left and right, there is no center, right?!”

Another dimension to the ideology of nationalism that is pertinent to the Brexit and Trump vote is the concept of populism. Populism is defined as a “political movement that emphasizes the interests, cultural traits, and spontaneous feelings of the common people, as opposed to those of a privileged elite”.Populist movements inherently carry an “anti-elitist” tone as they pit common people against the privileged elite andare often led by “strong and charismatic leaders”.Furthermore, populists promote their agenda as the “will of the majority”, i.e. democracy, and it is so in a “majoritarian sense” as although they justify their agenda as the “embodiment of the people”, they exclude the disadvantaged minority, i.e. racial and economical, along with the privileged. Thus, populist movements do not necessarily align along economic terms but tend to be “antagonistic to cultural, linguistic, religious and racial minorities”. In sum, the ‘common people’ for populists are homogenous in cultural and economic terms and therefore populist movements include as much as they exclude.

Populist nationalism, a factor that has emerged within the Brexit and Trump phenomena, then is a populist movement based on sentiments of the people who subscribe to the ideology of British or American nationalism, while vehemently excluding the privileged minority who have benefitted from an expanding world market as well as the disadvantaged minority such as immigrants and other racial minorities. Furthermore, anti-elite sentiments can be seen in both the Brexit and Trump vote. The Leave campaigners were mobilised largely against the political and economic elites (privileged elite) who were seemingly uncaring about those that had been “bypassed by globalization” and Trump similarly aggravated working-class America against the “out-of-touch elite”, of which he is very much a part of.

Moreover, exclusion of immigrants (the disadvantaged minority) and extreme xenophobia was largely seen in these populist movements that brought about Brexit and Trump. Brexit vote was a vote rejecting foreignerswhich included economic migrants as well as refugees. Trump’s entire campaign was xenophobic in predating people of colour, people from Muslim and Hispanic backgrounds who were American citizens and refugees. Lastly, while the Leave campaign did not have a charismatic leader behind which the movement grew, it was already brewing on Euroscepticism advanced by the UK Independence Partythat led to the referendum and working-class America had Trump who championed racist rhetoric as means to his political end.

Thus, nationalism and populism played a massive role in the vote for Brexit and Trump.  Nationalism essentially flourished because working class Britain and America felt threatened by international forces (world market) and populism thrived because the same people felt betrayed by political and economic elites. Rather than a proletariat revolution that would destroy bourgeois property and society, the vote for Brexit and Trump was a political revolution carried out by the proletariat of both nations that changed the form of government while failing to dismantle the system of class rule due to a surge in populist nationalism.

Cyclical or Cynical ?

The failure of a proletariat revolution can be accounted to the state of false consciousness which disables the proletariat from seeing the “deep structures of exploitation”. Such a state exists because the base of the social totality model, where relations of production reside, express the political and ideological relations in the superstructure, leading to a social totality that is run by the capitalist ideology of the bourgeoisie.Although the Brexit and Trump vote was a result of the proletariat acknowledging its exploitation by the bourgeois society, it was not because they recognised the real exploitation of their means of production but because they recognised with the strong bourgeois ideology of populist nationalism under a state of false consciousness.

Hence, the Brexit and Trump vote did little to change the status quo – governments were changed but bourgeois society survived. Thus, Marx was proven right in conceptualising an expanding world market and periodical economic crises, two factors which explain the Brexit and Trump vote to a certain extent, however, proven wrong in undermining the power of bourgeois ideologies, such as the one of nationalist populism, which would hamper the occurrence of a proletariat revolution due to the proletariat beingin a state of false consciousness.

Ananya Bordoloi is a Malaysia based researcher in the fields of international relations, global governance and human rights. Author has previously worked with Amnesty International in research and data collection capacity, and for a publishing company as a pre- editor.

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Did the Far-right Really Win the Sweden’s Elections?

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General elections were held in Sweden on Sunday 9 September 2018, to elect the 349 members of the Sweden Parliament (Riksdag). They in turn will elect the Prime Minister of Sweden. Regional and municipal elections were also held on the same day.

Sweden has been facing a political impasse after its mainstream center-left and center-right blocs virtually tied in an election on Sunday, while the far right — which neither wants to deal with — made gains on a hardline anti-immigration platform.

With nearly all votes counted on Monday, the ruling center-left Social Democrats and Greens and their Left Party parliamentary ally had 40.6 per cent of the vote, while the opposition center-right Alliance had 40.3 per cent. The Sweden Democrats, with roots in a neo-Nazi movement, won about 18 per cent, up from the 13 per cent gained four years earlier.

Under such circumstances, forming a coalition government is rather difficult in Sweden, with the country’s two traditional parties attempting to hold negotiations just to curb the Far-right extremists. Nevertheless there’s a very important point regarding the recent elections that should be taken into consideration:

Sweden Democrats, a right-wing political party in Sweden, which was founded in 1988, is described as right-wing populist, and anti-immigration. Jimmie Åkesson has been party leader since 2005. This party received increased support in the 2014 Swedish general election, when it polled 12.9% and secured 49 seats in parliament, becoming the third largest party in Sweden. But the the Sweden Democrats have remained isolated in the Riksdag because the other parties staunchly maintain a policy of refusing cooperation with them.

That is the reason why the Democratic Party, and Jimmie Åkesson’s strong presence at top of the political and executive equations in Stockholm are ruled out. The improvement in the vote of the democrats in the Swedish general election has been interpreted differently by various sources. Some analysts believe that Swedish extremists had a great success in the recent elections. However, some argue that the real story of Sweden’s election is not, as the prevailing narrative has it, the irresistible onward March of Europe’s far right.

The fact is that the far-right activists failed in Sweden’s general election: They failed to achieve their goal of gaining 25 to 30 percent of the general vote. True, the Swedish Democratic Party is still there as the third most powerful Swedish party in the recent election, but this is not exactly what while Jimmie Åkesson was after; to become the most powerful party in the country with winning the majority of the whole vote.

Though people like Jean-Marie Le Pen, the right-wing extremists’ leader in France, speak of the Swedish Democrats’ victory, the truth is something else!

Interestingly, surveys conducted before the Swedish general election indicate that Jimmie Åkesson and his entourage would be able to win at least 25% of the vote. But recent results suggest that some of the people who were supposed to vote for the Democratic Party in Sweden, had eventually decided to vote for the traditional parties.

In this way, at least until 2022, Sweden is rescued from a serious crisis called “right-extremism dominance over Stockholm”. If Axon and his associates come to power in Sweden, we will see the destruction of the multicultural society of Sweden on the one hand and the creation of some fundamental changes in the structure of the “welfare state” in this country on the other hand. And it should be noted that the development of populist policies in the welfare state will definitely lead to the elimination of the achievements that the Swedes have been struggling to deploy at the welfare and economic levels of society for decades.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Europe’s hollow threats

Mohammad Ghaderi

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Although there has recently been lots of controversies on issues such as developing an “independent payment system” Europe and a “pseudo-swift structure” to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran, many analysts and experts in economic affairs believe that there’s no real intention to actualize this idea among the EU authorities.

In the meantime, there are deterrent factors that have hampered European independence from the United States, and it seems that these factors are now highlighted under the presidency of Donald Trump.

The fact is that European politicians, and especially the current generation of European rulers act as the main barrier in this way. While some left-wing and Social-Democrats are about to put the idea into practice, some politicians such as the  German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and the British Prime Minister Theresa May are opposed to this idea.

They were committed to maintaining Europe’s economic and security dependence on Washington. However, the key question is whether the European countries will succeed on this path or not? Is there really a will to develop an independent payment system from the United States in Europe? The answer to this question is negative!

One of the most important prerequisites for the formation of an “independent payment system in Europe” is the consensus of the right-wing and left-wing parties on this issue. However, the European officials don’t seem to have such intention. On the contrary, they have become major obstacles to realizing this goal themselves.

It’s interesting that such a fact has been taken into consideration by many Western sources. For example, Foreign Policy writes in this regard:

“What’s different today is that the US is imposing sanctions contrary to the foreign policies not just of Russia and China, which have long chafed against the sanctions tool, but against the fundamental foreign policy of our closest allies in Europe and elsewhere,” Smith said. “That is what has brought us to this situation.”

It continues; “with their access to the US financial system hanging in the balance, European banks know that, in the end, the EU must satisfy Trump’s demands to fix the deal or be prepared to fully comply when US sanctions return.”

Recently, the Chancellor of Germany has announced her opposition to the creation of an independent payment system in Europe (to save the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). Angela Merkel believes that the US-EU security relationship is a priority and this should be considered in all the EU calculations! In other words, the German Chancellor has actually preferred “to play on the US ground”, and this she considers above all other options including “Europe’s financial independence from the United States.”

Theresa May, the British prime minister, has exactly the same opinion. She believes that, instead of confronting Trump’s financial and economic policies, and even its illegal measures such as the White House’s withdrawal from then nuclear deal, Europe should think about holding negotiations and interactions with Washington!

As for the French President Emmanuel Macron, his policies suggest that he has a strong desire to interact with United States under any conditions! In 2017 and during the joint-American-European Project on changing the JCPOA, he played an extremely important and highlighted role, though Trump had eventually pulled out of the nuclear deal.

Finally, it should be noted that the main obstacle to “Europe’s independence from the United States” are the European authorities. As long as the current generation of European politicians are in office, such independence (in terms of security and finance) won’t be actualized. When it comes to Iran sanctions, the EU seeks to satisfy Trump’s demands, and this a rule which is not going to change.

First published in our partner MNA

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Balkan Borders and Russia’s Interests

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The idea of concluding an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina on the territorial delimitation between Serbs and Albanians, voiced by the president of self-proclaimed independent Kosovo, Hashim Thaci and supported by Serbian President Aleksandr Vučić, may be on the negotiating table in Brussels in early September 2018. Both presidents are to meet in the Belgian capital to resume the dialogue on the normalization of bilateral relations under the auspices of the European Union.

In the interpretation of Hashim Tachi, this involves “correcting the Kosovo-Serb border” with the annexation of three adjacent Southern Serbian regions in Presevo Valley with predominantly Albanian population to Kosovo. If such an agreement is reached at the level of the leaders of Belgrade and Pristina “nobody will be able to interfere with its implementation – neither the EU, nor NATO, nor the United States”, the Kosovo president emphasized. Hashim Thaci even suggested holding a referendum in the relevant areas to resolve territorial issues, the decisions of which will have binding international legal force.

For his part, the head of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, refusing to speak on the status of the Presevo Valley, supported the idea of dividing Kosovo into Serbian and Albanian parts, stressing that otherwise in the next few decades, the Serbs will have to restrain Albanians already in cities outside Kosovo: “Do not want a differentiation with the Albanians? No problem, just tell people that we should be  ready to protect Vranje in 40 years if you do not see that our people are being evicted from there today.” “I stand for it and I do not hide it. I act and represent it as my policy, whether it will get the support of the people or not, but I stand for differentiation with the Albanians“? he said.

Addressing his opponents inside Serbia who see in the Kosovo division the act of national betrayal and the waiver of the “cradle of Serbian statehood,” Aleksandar Vučić accused them of unwillingness to really solve the Kosovo problem and even trying to use the Kosovo problem  for “overthrowing power in Serbia”: “They want to feel safe today, but what will happen tomorrow? It does not bother them.” I will not “wash my hands” like Pontius Pilate, but I will go out to the people with my draft resolution of settling the Kosovo problem” – promised Aleksandar Vučić, stressing that  until now he had no opportunity to negotiate directly with the Albanians themselves.

The possible achievement of a “package  agreement” between Belgrade and Pristina on the normalization of bilateral relations and the resolution of territorial issues is of growing interest in the Republika Srpska, which is part of Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to its President Milorad Dodik, if Kosovo is accepted to the UN and other international institutions with the consent of Serbia and its other opponents, the Republika Srpska will also seek accession to these structures.

The leader of the Bosnian Serbs stressed that the Kosovo problem cannot be solved separately from the Republika Srpska issue and recalled the resolution adopted by the parliament at Banja Luka in 2008. It said that in view of “establishing a new principle and international practice of recognizing the right to self-determination”, this state-forming entity of Bosnia and Herzegovina will seek for itself the status of the state.

Unlike the Balkan leaders, the European Union was seriously worried about the possible achievement of territorial compromises between Belgrade and Pristina and their possible extrapolation to other “disputed” areas of the Balkans. “Europeans are alarmed by the discussions about the borders between Serbia and Kosovo” as the territories exchange is “a risky bet in the Balkans”, – the Paris Le Monde  newspaper points out. It quotes the opinion of one of the leading EU diplomats who dealt with the settlement of interethnic conflicts, including in the Balkans and the former Soviet Union, Pierre Morel. “This is a great danger for the whole region” – the diplomat said, referring to the potential “escalation of movements for the renewal of borders on ethnic principles”. Such escalation can “infect” countries such as Macedonia, Montenegro or Bosnia and Herzegovina, where “many national minorities are struggling to coexist” – Le Monde points out.

Particular attention in this regard should be paid to Macedonia, taking into account the additional “risk factors” relative to this former Yugoslav republic. Among them is the threat of new internal political turmoil in the conditions of the refusal of a significant part of society (led by the president) to support an intergovernmental agreement with Greece on changing the name of the state.

As for the Albanian factor, the starting point for the “institutionalization” of Albanians’ demands was the 2001 Ohrid Peace Agreement. The rights of the Albanian minority proclaimed in this agreement actually turned Macedonia into a confederation. In particular, we are talking about such provisions as “unlimited use of the Albanian language as a service language in Macedonia” and “the introduction of consensus democracy in areas of activity that relate to ethnic rights.”

It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the very existence of Macedonia as a single state under the circumstances is primarily dependent on the “goodwill” of  the Albanian minority, which, according to various estimates, is between a quarter and one-third of the total population of the country.

Neither should we disregard the factor of NATO. In this relation, it should be recalled that the conclusion of the Ohrid Peace Agreement between the Government of Macedonia and the leaders of local Albanians was preceded by the signing of the so-called “Framework Agreement” between Macedonia and the North Atlantic Alliance. The amendments to the country’s constitution and other changes to the national legislation documented in this document were declared “an agreed framework for the future democracy in Macedonia”.

Such a consolidation of  dramatic changes in the legislation (concerning the very foundations of the national-state system) through an agreement with NATO was unprecedented even by Balkan measures but did not lead to a significant stabilization of the situation in Macedonia. It is no accident that experts from the International Crisis Group stated in 2006 that “the practical and political challenges facing the country still do not allow us to call it a stable post-conflict democracy.”

There can be no doubt that the leaders of the Macedonian Albanians will try to make maximum use of the Belgrade-Pristina agreements on territorial issues for their own purposes – despite the current opposition from the European Union.

The fact is that, according to available data, the idea of territorial “exchanges” between Belgrade and Pristina has recently received secret impulses from the United States. In reaching the relevant agreement Donald Trump’s administration saw a simple and convenient means of normalizing the situation in the Balkans and at the same time increasing its own rating in the eyes of both Serbs and Albanians, and “detachment” of Serbia from Russia. The Kosovo problem was actively discussed during the recent visit to Washington of the Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic. There she held meetings, including with US congressmen. “Washington, which has long opposed to any change in borders and has supported Kosovo since the 1999 war, seems to have also softened its position after Donald Trump came to power. Softened it to the extent that many European diplomats are now alarmed, what if the United States has managed to agree on a similar decision with Russia, which historically supports Serbia,” – worries Le Monde.

Under the current conditions, it can be predicted that all those interested in the new redrawing of the Balkan borders will try to take advantage of the contradictions between Brussels and Washington in their own interests in order to ensure for themselves the maximum advantages of both territorial and financial  nature. This, in turn, requires Russia to be more attentive to the Balkan processes that can become a catalyst for the corresponding “shifts” including in the post-Soviet space in the spirit of the well-known concept of Realpolitik.

At the same time, one should take into account the fact that many negotiators themselves are not at all inclined to expand their format and, in particular, to involve Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Thus, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic rejects the possibility of Russia joining the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, stressing that the format of such negotiations will remain “as it is” and its expansion will not happen: “There are no such plans“.

However,  this does not prevent the leaders of Serbia from specifically discussing the above issues with the United States. Thus, in order not to “lose” the Balkans, Russian diplomacy should be more “proactive” and put forward their own initiatives that meet both its own interests and the interests of current and potential  partners in the Balkan region and beyond.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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