Brexit and the German Connection: Dr Greta Sykes, Institute of Education/UCL London
‘Wir schaffen das’ (we manage that). Angela Merkel’s mantra about the refugees in Germany is symbiotic with her allegiance to US neo-liberalist globalisation and assists the US’ most important foreign policy doctrine. George Friedman, founder of Stratfor intelligence corporation, declared ‘United Germany and Russia are the only force that can break the US’ (Utube, 2015). In his hacked emails Phillip Breedlove, former NATO supreme commander, comments that general Martin Dempsey is ‘dragging his feet in order to save relations with Russia’ (July 2016). Keeping Germany (technology) and Russia (resources) separate, a strategic aim since at least 1945, if not 1917, remains one of the key pillars in understanding the European situation and the war in Syria. The fact that American bases after the end of the Soviet Union did not decrease, but instead increased made critics, such as former army colonel Andrew Bacevich wonder ‘whether American globalism really grew out of the need for Soviet containment (T. Meaney, 2016). In this essay the historical, contemporary and psychological dimensions of Merkel’s politics are explored and their likely effects analysed.
The German connection
A recent opinion poll by INSA for Cicero magazine suggests that Angela Merkel’s popularity has decreased substantially due to her party’s policies regarding migration into Germany. Nearly 2/3 of those interviewed said they did not want her to stand in next year’s election. Merkel’s plea that the whole EU should participate in accepting the refugees unilaterally invited by her has fallen on deaf ears. Country after country closed their borders, Austria, Poland, Hungary. Her EU -Turkey deal has had close to zero effect in terms of movement for refugees. One of the reasons for inviting refugees in was an ‘Arbeitskraftmangel’ (lack of a workforce). How local schools, communities, hospitals and doctors would cope with a very large change of a population with little knowledge of German was left to improvisation.
The original aims of the EU for peace and the values fought for by women and successive generations of trade unionists for better pay and working conditions are quietly negated in favour of an alignment with US hegemonic aims of achieving domination for US companies – already able to wield power in their own country of minimum wages and migrating wage slavery – towards a globally shifting cheap labour force that is expected to be docile, helpless and without rights. The situation is exacerbated by a vicious circle of massive arms sales ($1.3 billion worth by Europe into the Middle East) which is feeding wars. The Syrian one, is now in its fifth year with the US mantra of ‘Assad must go’ preventing a speedy peaceful solution in cooperation with Putin for the Syrian people. This in turn is leading to further migration. It is cynical to invite refugees in order to act as cheap labour into a country which is the second largest arms exporter in the world. The best current examples of how the world is supposed to look in the future according to Merkel and Co are the trade deals CETA and TTIP. Both aim to reach deeply into the fabric of European culture and tradition. ‘The route using the law is used stating that every state action and legal operation must be conducted with a focus on private profits rather than the public good’, comments Kraetke (2016).
The psychological dimension
The German Nazi past, although now seventy odd years ago remains a traumatic backdrop for its people. Guilt and shame act like deep-seated pieces of charcoal that can be readily reignited. Holding demonstrations for the rights of Palestinians and against Israeli aggression in Germany is always contested by people who call peace demonstrators anti-semitic. The term ‘Gutmenschen’ (good persons) has come to denote people who go out of their way to ensure that everyone can see how kind and good hearted one is. Last autumn the country was overflowing not just with refugees, but also with naïve Gutmenschen. They wanted to help and received encouragement from the media. Reports of thefts, attacks, sexual assault were suppressed and the mindset of the naive Gutmenschen could be activated by the media focus on affective responses. Almost cathartic in its dimension it permitted exculpating oneself from guilt and shame.
It does not imply that most people are not honest and empathic about their helpfulness, but the hyper-emotionality of the media was driving an agenda that bordered on blackmail in its persistent urging the German people onwards. A picture of a dead child on the beach would function as a catalyst robbing people of their rational mind and their ability to explore pros and cons. ‘Die Lügenpresse’ (the lie media) by Ulfkotte (2014) explores the use of political correctness, emotionality and lies in the media in detail. There is another area of guilt, hatred, Angst and denial which needs to be explored, which is the continuing dissonance between East (Ossis) and West (Wessis) Germany.
Ossis and Wessis
In 1989 the wall was brought down, and East Germany (GDR) ceased to exist. Its business and industry, which used to feature as the tenth strongest economy in the world, was annexed by the West. Ossis still feel sore about how their country was swallowed up by Wessis. After all, their rights for women and their youth movements were second to none. In the decades before the wall came down and since its fall almost no week has gone by without a major TV programme or newspaper article condemning the GDR, berating its achievements and denigrating their attempts to build socialism. Frequently such programmes contain comparisons with the Nazis. It is not surprising that a sense of alienation among Ossis and a form of self-righteousness among Wessis are further emotional stress factors in this increasingly unstable and angst-ridden current situation. The combination of both narratives has created a psycho- pathological undercurrent in many German people against which Merkel repeats her mantra of ‘wir schaffen das’ like a headlight shone into a rabbit’s eyes. Vague and hypnotic at the same time, hinting at bravery and glory, the little phrase represents globalised business in its drive for cheap labour and markets.
Meanwhile in each local community the people work hard to help, but feel the situation is out of control. When asked for their views they reply cautiously in case they are castigated as racist, or even fascist. An MP of the Green Party, Claudia Roth, verbally attacked Sahra Wagenknecht, the theoretician and MP for the Linke (Left) party only last week over mentioning that there ought to be a limiting management of the refugee influx accepted into the country. Meanwhile an open door policy, advocated by such people as George Soros and the campaign group Pro-Asyl, remains the neo-liberal quasi religion as directed by the US. As a borderless globalised ‘free movement of people and goods’ society the EU governments appear to stand helplessly by while one terror act after another shatters beliefs in security, culture, religion and the meaning of the nation state. The total control of global business interests over the Western media is such that, in spite of the glaring accumulation of unacceptable events in their countries, such as Islamic terror acts, a significant rise of sexual assault of women and interference in the politics of Germany by a foreign state (Turkey) are negated by Merkel’s fuzzy and feeble responses to recent developments.
Socialism as a psychological and physical dynamo for change
Encouraged by the Bishop of Hamburg, Hans-Otto Woelber, Horst Kasner, Merkel’s father, moved the family from Hamburg to East Germany with the desire to increase the influence of the church in the East. He eventually became a pastor at Templin Pastors College – known as a window to the west with easy access to western media. The family’s beliefs were firmly anti-GDR. It is not surprising then that Merkel is spearheading the relentless drive to annihilate any notions of real socialism, past or present. Thus it happens that the battle of ideas, as it was called, rages as powerfully as before in the middle of Germany.
At its heart lies the GDR, this silenced country and its socialist achievements. Here can be found the key to understanding our present calamitous situation. The schism between socialism and capitalism still runs as it did since 1945 geographically as well as politically and psychologically through the middle of Germany. The unacknowledged, berated and hostile narrative of real socialisms’ powerful visions, ideas and achievements, rather than merely its shortfalls, is the stumbling block which prevents a rational and constructive analysis of how alternatives to the neo-liberal credo and its fascistoid accomplices in the shape of jihadi terror can be put into action. The hysteria with which any reference to real existing socialism’s achievements is met is an indication of how vital this debate is for a better future for us and our children. The fact that the GDR and the USSR built successful industrial societies in spite of being isolated by the West astonished and thrilled working people the world over. It offered hope and optimism for a better life, improved working conditions and equality for women and fired the imagination of revolutionaries, artist, writers, musicians and film makers everywhere, as well as inspiring freedom movements, not least the Cuban revolution and many other revolutions in turn.
‘None of these hesitations (about socialism’s universal vocation) troubled the first generation of those inspired by the shining light of October to devote their lives to the world revolution’ writes Hobsbawm (1994, p72). He adds: ‘’In the generation after 1917 Bolshevism absorbed all other social-revolutionary traditions, or pushed them to the margins…P72)
‘Moreover the threat of communist appeal to West European populations during the Cold War checked the predatory instincts of capital and ensured that trade union strength was tolerated and adequate welfare systems were financed…’ (Willy Thompson, 2011, p229).
Hobsbawm comments: ‘…monopoly capitalists can come to terms with any regime that does not actually expropriate them…’ (p129). The Soviet Union had done exactly this, and this singular sin was unforgivable. This is exemplified by the fact that Merkel maintains friendly relations with Saudi-Arabia, where the death penalty is law and has chosen to link with Turkey, also not known for its human rights respect, in her EU-Turkey deal, rather than give the money to Greece and Italy, the two obvious states who have suffered the majority of refugee arrivals.
‘If there is peace, profits grow thanks to stability. If there is war, profits grow on account of the new demand’ (Groys, 2009, p24). Further Groys states:
‘Communist revolution involves exposing, confirming and materialising the suspicion that behind the illusion of an open society are hidden the closed spaces of a manipulative and conspiratorial power…’(p29). Groys lays bare the falseness of the capitalist promises which present us with a world that exists without past or future. Stable world views are subverted, such as the vision of socialism. Both peace and war can feed capitalist production, so we cannot achieve a lasting peace while it is still in place.
A few months after Merkel opened the borders to welcome refugees the Brexit vote took place, and there can be little doubt that her action aided the Brexit campaign. It made plain for all to see what Europe was struggling with. ‘The strange thing about the EU referendum, which has engendered so much heartache, and was supposed to be so definitive is that it hasn’t settled anything’ (James Meek, LRB,14th July 2016). Meek asks: ‘Will Britain continue to have high levels of immigration? We don’t know. Will Britain continue to be part of the European Free trade deal? We don’t know. Will the city dwindle or thrive? We don’t know. What is certain: It is likely to lead to a huge waste of time and money.’
The EU referendum was ‘the wrong question, put at the wrong time, in the wrong way… a reckless gamble, given that the stakes were so high. No one can say how it will play out…’ David Runciman, LRB 14.7.) …British voters had kicked the’neo-liberal EU in the teeth’ (Phillipe Marliere, LRB).
Ironically, although having aided the neo-liberalist quasi religion (Harrington, 2016) into Europe, British voters rebutted its globalisation agenda with its free movement of cheap labour. .., advocated by such people, as Timothy Garton-Ash, Niall Ferguson, Bernard Henri-Levy and Josef Joffe.
True to form Merkel’s response after Brexit was that there needs to be no change in the EU, while Walter Steinmeier (SPD), Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) declared that the EU has to return to its social welfare ideals. It is not difficult to imagine how Europe is going look, if Merkel and her policies of alignment with US/NATO global capitalism continue. CETA and TTIP point the way. Global companies will use their legal rights to thwart national governments’ attempts to resist and maintain the rights working class people have fought for for centuries.
The conspiracy of global capitalism has though not reckoned with the people who are resisting everywhere. In Britain Jeremy Corbyn, Labour party leader, is leading a growing mass movement against all the odds. In Germany people voted for a new party focused on national priorities in local elections and reaching over 20% in places. The Lügenpresse has been weakened by thousands of deserters to RT, Sputnik, Counterpunch and other sources of alternative views. The need to work with Putin has been recognised by Steinmeier and Seehofer, CSU, who only this week visited Putin for the second time. Peace can only be achieved with Russia not against it, says Steinmeier. This means first and foremost making peace with Assad in Syria and helping him to rebuild his country and bringing home his people.
Bacevich, A. (2016) in: Meaney, T. So it must be forever. LRB.
Breedlove, P. (2016) RT.
Friedman, G. (2015). Utube.
Groys, B. (2009) The Communist postscript. Verso. London.
Hobsbawm, E. (1994) Age of extremes. Michael Joseph. London.
Hobsbawmn, E. (2011) How to change the world. Little Brown. London.
Harrington, T. (2016) American culture in a time of imperial orthodoxies. Counterpunch.
Kraetke, M. (2016) Kreisen in der Warteschleife (circling around waiting). Der Freitag, newspaper.
Marliere, P. (2016) On Brexit. LRB.
Meek, J. (2016) On Brexit. LRB.
Runciman, D. (2016) On Brexit. LRB.
Thompson, W. (2011) Ideologies in the age of extremes. Pluto Press. London
Ulfkotte, 2014) Die Lügenpresse. Kopp Verlag, Rothenburg/Neckar.
© Dr Greta Sykes