Was the ghost of Marx haunting Brexit?

TheGlobeandMail.com – Opinion
Jun. 30, 2016.   MICHAEL BLISS

“Let the ruling classes tremble … The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains.” – Karl Marx.

“The people are angry. All around the world the people are angry.” – Donald Trump.

They say that passersby heard loud gutteral laughter echoing among the monuments and tombstones in London’s Highgate Cemetery on the night of June 23. They say it appeared to come from the grave of Karl Marx, dead since 1883 but vindicated in 2016 in his theory of capitalism generating a great class struggle, celebrating the victory of British proletarians as they rose up and threw off the shackles imposed on their country by their governing, Eurocratic plutocracy. Peacefully, democratically, the dispossessed of the British people started making a revolution.

And Marx is even happier, they say, to see the same class struggle, the same revolutionary activity, haunting every other European government, and even threatening to overthrow the greatest of all plutocracies, that of the United States.

It certainly looks like a class struggle, doesn’t it? On one side are the winners in the global capitalist economy – well-educated, well-to-do, young, mobile, well-spoken, confident. On the other side are all those who have fallen behind, the losers – those without education, without prospects, sidelined by age and infirmity, crude, frightened, confused, inarticulate and very angry.

The new global proletariat, finding itself increasingly marginalized and threatened, is now fighting back. It takes whatever leadership it can find: in Britain an eccentric Etonian former mayor; in America a socialist Senator in one party, a billionaire developer in the other; in France the daughter of a man widely believed to have been a fascist. Most of its battles are defeats, or were until June 23. All the while its anger grows.

Come to think of it, who would not be angry at the excesses of the new global plutocracy? Who would not be angry about obscene and growing inequalities between the winners and the rest? Who would not be angry at a financial establishment whose greed and corruption brings the global economy to the brink of destruction, but never sends any of its well-turned-out crooks to jail?

Who would not be angry at governments that bomb and invade Third World countries, wreaking havoc, causing vast migrations of wretched refugees to their own shores to clash with those already at the bottom?

Who would not be angry at politicians who parlay a few years of power into a lifetime of sweet directorships and highly paid speaking opportunities?

Who would not be angry at the kept ideologues of globalization, the theorists who turn a blind eye to suffering and loss as they toy with their pet ideas about single currencies, central bank management, and the need to destroy the nation state?

As the glittering winners of globalization descended on Britain during the referendum campaign to try to frighten and browbeat the proles, it was like Romanovs making their wishes known to the masses. As companies told their British workers how to vote, it was like lords of the manor instructing the serfs.

With social scientists, pundits and pollsters at their usual loss to understand the great historical developments remaking our society, it may be that some reformulation of Marxist theories of class and class struggle are as useful as any others for trying to explain what is happening to us.

In a way it all happened before, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, during the first heyday of Marxism. To head off conflict and revolution, enlightened Western leaders allowed the formation of trade unions and developed policies of taxation, social welfare and philanthropy that narrowed and bridged the gaps between winners and losers. They knew it was important to restore a sense of community, to bring people together, to use the visible hands of the state to counter the invisible, atomizing forces of the marketplace.

It is much too early to know how history will judge the reckless callousness and stupidity of the leaders of global liberal capitalism in our time. Sixteen years into the 21st century and they can’t make Europe work, can’t regulate their penchant for wretched excess, can’t stop raining death and destruction on benighted countries, can’t stop belittling their opponents as racists, can’t stop ordinary people from turning away to follow demagogues who may well lead all of us to disaster.

Of course we are being judged by that ghost in Highgate Cemetery, by the haunting laughter of a long-dead, only partly crazed prophet.

Surely we can do better?

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