Saturday, 12 April 2008
The British Campaign for a Democratic Europe - A View Out of Chaos
Though the UK has been part of what is today the European Union for over 35 years the people of this country --and in particularly in England-- have never been very enthusiastic about a united Europe or what is known on the Continent as the European Project.
As the European Project has developed and evolved, bringing into it more and more countries, there has, at the same time, grown an increasing feeling of concern amongst some Europeans that the increasing centralisation of power to Brussels is a threat to their respective national identities. The rejection in Holland and France of the proposed European Constitution reflected, at least in part, that concern.
It wasn't the whole story by any means. Those on the Left were equally if not more concerned about the effect of the neo-liberal economics adopted by the Commission over the last eight years which have superseded its old social-democratic policies. The Commission was not entirely to blame for this coup from the Right for it was merely reflecting the policies filtering down to it from its Council of Ministers and its unelected Round Table of Industry which plays such a major role in policy-making. The Council and the Round Table in their turn reflect the 'neo-liberal' policies being laid down by diktat via large financial organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
But by the time this sea-change in economic and social policy manifested itself at the grassroots of European society it was seen, understandably, as a threat to the national way of life associated with an ever-more centralised and distant Brussels eurocracy.
This has led to a resurgence of nationalist reaction in certain EU countries and never more so than in the traditionally insular island-nation that is the United Kingdom. A similar reaction appears to be taking place in Eire which from having been an enthusiastic partner in Europe during the days of industrial boom has, it appears, to have gone sour on the idea when boom turned into recession. Was the old Irish enthusiasm for the European Project never more than opportunistic? And in that sense was Britain's decision to join the EEC and to remain in it based more on popular feelings of anxiety and insecurity than on any real enthusiasm for European unity?
Faced with the collapse of 'neo-liberal' capitalism and something even more fundamentally serious pointing to the culmination of a Kondratieff Cycle, no less, Europe along with the rest of the Planet is facing a time of re-evolutionary change. During such a time everything goes up into the air and especially old, unresolved business. The current upsurge of a proto-fascist nationalism in countries like the UK are very much part of this phenomenon.
The emerging nationalism is characterised by being both of the Left and the Right and within it is to be found a chauvinist, if not quite racist, undercurrent that is fuelled by opportunist social fascists who whip-up paranoia among the more gullible of an attack on society by unseen or undefined forces. This idea is particularly a favourite of the middle-aged 'grey revolutionaries' who see their comfortable and relatively secure way of life under threat in a country like Britain which is undergoing a downward slide in its quality of living, entirely predictable as, at least in part, being the result of its post-imperial hangover.
The British people never came to terms with themselves as to their new sense of post-imperial identity. Alf Garnett-style chauvinism was portrayed to look rightly ridiculous. Al Murray's Happy Hour followed the tradition of self-parody but in a disturbingly ambivalent manner where you can never be quite sure whether he's really taking the piss out of British xenophobia or not.
Alf Garnett, the Quintessential Bigot
But it's true and there's no point in trying to side-step the issue. Despite or due to an influx of immigration, Britain remains an insular and xenophobic culture. Years ago this was explained to me by a Dutch-woman with whom I was discussing the peculiarly British sense of insularity and superiority. "It's quite natural," she said, "and only to be expected from an island nation. People who live on islands are more wary of outsiders."
Well, I think that she had a good point but her explanation could not account for the totally unfounded sense of superiority/inferiority that, despite all the changes, lies at the heart of the British make-up together with a stubborn monolingual outlook which when challenged invariably is met with the retort, "Everyone else speaks English so why should we bother to speak their language?" Which entirely misses the point: the reason why we might bother to learn another's language is really more from a curiosity to learn about other people, their cultures and way of thinking and living. As a nation, we in Britain don't much care for that.
Until recently, that singular and self-congratulatory attitude could be attributable to a natural sense of superiority inculcated in the British mind by centuries of imperialist, Kiplingesque values. Britannia could do no wrong in the manner in which she ruled. But that sense of innate superiority took a thorough bashing some decades ago, leaving the average Brit confused and without any sense of national identity with which to replace the old myth.
The present attempt by British politicians to make new citizens swear an oath of allegiance to Queen and Country and the like comes not so much from a sense of innate superiority of the old kind but of a terrible feeling of insecurity and panic that the traditional tapestry of British culture, whatever that was, has become so moth-eaten that it's coming apart at the seams. The last straw, it was perceived, was the fake threat of Islamisation --deliberately created as an ideological weapon by Washington's neocons-- which has given vent to a deep vein of racism and national insecurity that runs through the British psyche.
Islamophobia, however, is not something peculiar to the social fascist attitudes of the British middle-classes and what used to be thought of as the lower or working-classes. It runs right across the nominally Christian cultures of Europe, North America and Australia and has something to do with the collision between a White and predominantly non-White culture and worldview. The danger, though, is that it stokes up all the old anti-semitic traditions of western Christianity which we are seeing now re-presented in a different form under the pretence of an entirely spurious 'War on Terror'. This so-called clash of cultures was deliberately stoked-up in order to justify the new imperialism of the United States and its ever-willing sidekick, the UK government.
Combined with the insecurity and confusion caused by a changing world all this coagulates in the British mind to look as if it really is under a terrible attack from outside. Rather than any attempt at self-analysis, the fear is then projected outwards to be seen as a threat from beyond our borders. It's immigrants, it's coloureds, it's Islamic terrorists, it's the Eurocrats who are determined to subvert and change our lives. They're going to take away our freedoms and turn us into "a socialist state" as one of the more notable scare-mongers of the Right presently doing the circuit, Mr Brian Gerrish, would have it. And not only that says Mr Gerrish, who is in a habit of terrifying young people with the story, but "they're out to kill you!"
Gerrish reminds me of a bitter old man who picks on children to terrify them with his horror stories. It's a kind of power trip which today would normally be met with ridicule or reported to the police as harassment or worse. But Gerrish is talking about the EU, not nasty serial-killers. And kids will believe that stuff because it sounds like a juicy conspiracy theory. Not only kids but perfectly grown-up adults who like nothing else but a conspiracy to get off on and wet their libido. In a blame culture such as ours conspiracies abound. It's easy to blame others for the state of denial in which we stubbornly remain.
And there's the rub. For it was precisely out of a similar blame culture in the German Weimar Republic that Adolf Hitler rose to power, not through a coup but the ballot-box. If ever there was an example of the imperfections of democracy that had to be it. It was easy to blame all the problems of Weimar Germany on the treachery of the Allies in the Hall of Versailles. Just as it is easy to blame the miseries of contemporary Britain on immigrants, Muslims and the EU. What is not so easy is to look at ourselves honestly and to ask ourselves what it was we did as a nation that got ourselves into the state we are today. For to do so means coming out of denial. It means facing up to some unpleasant truths about ourselves and our past and accepting responsibility for it all.
It means an accepting of our own accountability for events. No more passing the buck, no more blame-culture, no more nationalist chauvinism. It means growing-up as a culture, a society and a nation. It's nothing less than our part in an evolutionary challenge that the entire human race now faces. And in Britain it's the challenge we face within the character of things as we find them. And part of our challenge is to decide whether we choose an inward-looking separation from the rest of the world or an acceptance that the world has moved on and it's time we moved with it.
Up to now, the controversy about Europe has been polarised deliberately between the centralists of the Eurocracy and the nationalists who loathe the idea of European union to be somehow a threat to their imaginary, domestic Utopias. Whilst the current reality within the countries of Europe is really about whether or not to accept a Constitution masquerading as a Treaty this is being presented to the British public in a characteristically dishonest manner by the Europhobic nationalists as a call for withdrawal.
Nothing could be further from the truth! No one, other than the minority of nationalists who are out to destroy and impose their own tyrannies, is talking about leaving the European Union. What is being hotly debated, and rightly so, is the kind of Europe that we its people would wish to see created. That, for example, is what the admirable Dublin Castle Forum and the national debate surrounding it in Eire is all about.
And clearly, as the video below shows, the Europarliament is very far from being the toothless, mishappen creature it is so often made to seem by those who have no real love of European democracy. We should be supporting, not sneering at it:
The Europarliament in Revolt
But tell that to the nationalists --by nationalists I mean that motley group of Left and Right we find in Britain today-- and you are met with a vacant silence. They have no reply and for good reason. The nationalist view is, as always, one that is founded on untruths and convenient fictions. The Little-British nationalists of both the Left and the Right are really not interested in debate. They don't want to know the truth about the Dublin Castle Forum debate. They just want out. And anyone who dares to question their intolerance is straightaway denounced as some form of traitor or saboteur!
This unhappy band of nationalists are no more than spoilt grown-ups who insist on having everything their own way. While accusing others of intolerance and fascism they are quite unable to see that all they are doing is to project their own inner demons on the rest of us. God help us if these people were ever to gain any real position of power!
It is often said that Britain today is a place of angry people. Given the form of misgovernment and abuse we have to suffer from our collectively corrupt and opportunist politicians who, in all fairness, can do nothing more than to rearrange the deckchairs on the sinking Titanic of capitalism, it's hardly surprising that we should be angry. We are treated in the most disgraceful manner by a secretive and feudal-minded clique of rulers who are determined that the very last thing we should have, and even then God forbid, is anything vaguely resembling a true, representative and accountable democracy.
But it is not just anger, which channelled properly can become a most effective tool for creative change. It is something far worse. It is intolerance all dressed-up in disguise like the wolf after Little-Red-Riding-Hood. And the nationalists, always quick to smell the toxins that anger and intolerance give off, have been very quick to jump in and stir the poisoned cesspit to their advantage. The Gerrish's, the Freedom Associations and their ilk don't fool me. I've been in this game too long. But they are fooling a lot of good but gullible folk --and now particularly among the younger generations. And that is when I say, Basta! Enough!
What has happened to the tolerant, liberal-minded society we Brits so prided ourselves on? What exactly is it in our own mental make-up --never mind others, just leave them out for now please-- that has made us angry and intolerant? Just what has replaced our famed liberal-mindedness with a form of insidious social fascism? For it is this malaise upon which the Little-British nationalists feed upon like vultures.
So, enough! It is time for those of the middle-path to regain the high ground. It is time that good democrats in this country understand the need for and partake in a Campaign for a Democratic Europe. For it is in such a campaign that our collective future lies as a European people, not in some retrogressive return to a past that never was of the kind that our nationalists peddle. The battle between democracy and tyranny is once more astride the stage and we are all actors in this drama whether we admit it or not.
We are truly at a critical moment, not just in Europe but everywhere across this Planet. You could look at it almost as a battle between the forces of Progress and Retrogression. In every sphere, whether it be in our personal, subjective world or in our outward, collective experience we are faced with this evolutionary challenge. In the political world, it is very much another step along the road of democracy versus tyranny.
And in the theatre we find ourselves in on this Planet, the place we know as Europe, the struggle is on. It is but a natural part of the political evolution of a united Europe. I appeal to all fellow-Europeans and Britons, do not allow yourselves to return to the darker days of national revanchism and chaos. To paraphrase Hermann Hesse's, Blick ins Chaos, there exists for us today a window of opportunity, a view through chaos, which we have no real choice but to set our sights on and fly courageously through!