Why capitalists should support the European Union

Like most Canadians, I favour the European Union and have a negative opinion of Brexit. According to a poll by Carleton University, 75 per cent of Canadians have positive or somewhat positive opinion of the E.U. and 64 per cent are unsympathetic or somewhat unsympathetic of Brexit.

European Union flag. Image: Vector illustration.

Curiously, Canadian views are partisan. More Conservatives are sympathetic of Brexit than Liberals and New Democrats (46, 13, and 8 per cent, respectively). What’s odd about Conservative sympathy is that Brexit will hurt the flow of British capital.

Equally odd is support for Brexit by Britain’s Tory Party, the traditional party of capital.  Neil Davidson, author and professor at the University of Glasgow, explains:

“The Tory Party is not acting in the interests of British capital in pushing through Brexit. This dereliction of its duty is the result of how ruling-class parties have evolved in the neoliberal era (Harper’s, October, 2019).”

This is further evidence of the shift in conservative values towards populism. The Republican Party in the U.S. no longer has capitalism as a core value, rather it owes fealty to a reckless madcap leader who supporters see as maverick. Britain’s Boris Johnson has the same eccentric appeal.

Here’s why rational conservatives should support the European Union:

“Given the illusions many on the left have about the E.U., it’s ironic that its structure corresponds quite closely to the model of ‘interstate federalism’ devised by the economist Friedrich A. Hayek in 1939,” says Davidson. “Hayek, in many ways the intellectual forerunner of neoliberalism, proposed that economic activity in a federal Europe should be governed by a set of nonnegotiable rules presided over by a group of unelected bureaucrats, without any elected members of government and irrational voters getting in the way,”

British capitalists have always been in favour of the E.U. as a replacement for their colonies. As the British Empire imploded and colonies became self-governing and resistant to exploitation, British capital sought new opportunities for investment and found them right next door.

Not only Britain, but capitalists in Germany and France looked within Europe itself for opportunities. Global capital needed outlets for investment beyond the boundaries of individual states. At a time when decolonization across the Global South reduced slavery as a source of cheap labour, the E.U. provided a means for capitalism within Western Europe.

Contrary to my impression of the E.U. as being a foil to the rising U.S. military industrial complex, the E.U. benefited the U.S. as well. The E.U. was a political and economic complement to the NATO military alliance in Europe, part of Washington’s Cold War imperial project.

The global economic crisis in 2008 exposed the structural inequalities of the E.U. as not a union of equals. Germany imposed austerity measures on weaker states, throwing countries such as Greece into depressions.

The E.U. is a model of globalization in which “free trade” is the advertised objective but the imposition of non-trade clauses, such as copyright and protection of Big Pharma patents, is a primary goal.

The E.U. is more undemocratic than any of the nation-states that compose it, including Britain. Its least democratic institutions such as the European Commission and the European Global Central Bank have the most power while the nominally democratic European Parliament has the least. It’s a undemocratic institution designed to prevent social democrats from infringing on the logic of capital in Europe.

Brexit will diminish the power of capitalism as we move into an era of populism and protectionism characterized by the Trump administration.

My hope is that organic movements, such as climate activism, will rise to restore sanity in resolving the greatest threat to humanity.

Populism has lost its meaning

Use of the word populism has become more popular says Sylvia Stead, public editor of the Globe and Mail:

      Rodrigo Duterte. Image: Youtube

“There has certainly been a surge in references to ‘populist’ and ‘populism’ in The Globe. Ten years ago, each word had 317 mentions in the paper. Then there was a surge around Toronto mayor Rob Ford. In the past 12 months, the combined number of mentions rose to 1,310. And clearly the increase over the past year reflects a growth in both true populism and the appearance of populism.”

However, its meaning has become less clear. Public historian David Finch says: “the definition of populism is at odds with the racist, narrow minded, reactionary point of view of the minority now claiming to represent the majority.”

It used to mean something, such as grass-roots democracy or working class activism. Those movements are fundamental, not of the left or the right. The Reform Party was a grass-roots movement that was swallowed by the Conservative Party. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation had agrarian roots before it evolved into the New Democratic Party.

So-called populist leaders have little in common except for raw ambition,.

There are the populist wannabes like Conservative leader hopeful Kellie Leitch.  She tried to exploit the fear of immigrants in her pitch for Canadian Values. Some Canadians feared that immigrants would take their jobs, or end up being terrorists who would kill them in the streets. Instead of addressing those concerns by pointing out that immigrants actually create jobs and that most home-grown terrorists aren’t immigrants, she reinforced those fears. It was a thinly disguised attempt to emulate the power-grab in the U.S.

There are self-aggrandizing fools. There is no doubt that Donald Trump’s supporters represent working-class discontent. These formerly middle-class industrial workers have seen their incomes slip into the rank of the working poor. They awoke from their slumber to find that, while globalism has brought them cheap goods, it has sent their jobs elsewhere. Trump’s vitriol against Mexico and Canada resonates with them. Trump has no appreciation of the working class. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has clawed his way to fortune by climbing over the backs of his constituents. Calling Trump a populist leader is an insult to the genuine concerns of his base.

There are regressive, reactionary leaders like Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines. Duterte has exploited the concerns of ordinary people over deadly drugs. Duterte encourages vigilante squads to kill drug dealers. Those squads end up killing the very people who worry about drug abuse -innocent Filipinos accused, found guilty, and executed on the spot.

If not populists, what are we to call these autocratic leaders? We can certainly call them xenophobes. The vote on Brexit and the second-place showing of Marine Le Pen in France demonstrates that. Perhaps no one word will do. Instead we will have to use full sentences, even paragraphs to say what we mean.

While the meaning of populism is less clear, the fundamental concerns of the poor and working class are not. Canadians yearn for leaders who are pure of heart, not opportunists who use them as stepping stones to promote their warped ambitions.