Brexit and Mexit
I have to admit that the attitudes of most lefty commentators on Latin America (including myself) about Brexit certainly are paradoxical. While we generally deplore the damages done to our own countries by various neo-liberal “trade agreements” and support nationalist movements, when it comes to British voters turning their backs on those trade agreements and turning nationalist, we immediately write off the “Leave” voters as a bunch of short-sighted racist yahoos. Which, it appears, they are.
One could make the argument in both “developed” (once) Great Britain and “less developed” Mexico, it is the elites who benefit most from super-national bodies like the E.U. or trade agreements like NAFTA, and — when given a chance — the “proles” recognize that they are getting the short end of the deal, making the “Leave” vote in Great Britain appear a victory for the salt of the earth. Or, I suppose, given the “neo-liberal” bent of these sort of organizations and agreements, we should cheer the Brits on the good sense to reject the false political choices we’re offered by modern “democracies” that are no choice at all, nor benefit the majority of us:
A few years ago the American writer Chris Hedges wrote a book he titled the Death of the Liberal Class. His argument was not so much that liberals had disappeared, but that they had become so coopted by the right wing and its goals – from the subversion of progressive economic and social ideals by neoliberalism, to the enthusiastic embrace of neoconservative doctrine in prosecuting aggressive and expansionist wars overseas in the guise of “humanitarian intervention” – that liberalism had been hollowed out of all substance.
Liberal pundits sensitively agonise over, but invariably end up backing, policies designed to benefit the bankers and arms manufacturers, and ones that wreak havoc domestically and abroad. They are the “useful idiots” of modern western societies.
(Cook, Jonathan, “Brexit and the Diseased Liberal Mind“, Common Dreams, 27 June 2016)
Cook seems to assume the “Leave” voters were thoughtful people, he was writing after the vote, and it appears he’s trying to make a case that “Leave” voters were making a logical decision based on the common good. Others in Britain, while the campaign was going on, made the same argument, although also for a small audience:
For those of us who enjoy interacting with the people of countries other than our own, enriching ourselves by getting to know other cultures, and who identify with workers of other countries, it is extremely counterintuitive to stand against the European Union, which seems to be a vehicle for facilitating communication across international boundaries and bringing workers of different nationalities closer together.
Nevertheless, although the European Union undoubtedly does have its beneficial aspects, it remains the case that in essence it is an imperialist outfit, designed to enable the bourgeoisies of the various imperialist countries to be strong enough financially and militarily to safeguard their imperialist status as against (a) their imperialist rivals, (b) the oppressed countries that they exploit, and (c) the working classes of their own countries.
Unpleasant though it is to find on our side of the barricades not only progressive and honest people but also a load of brainless and malicious xenophobes, it is enjoyable to note that the British bourgeoisie has hoist itself with its own petard. It encourages xenophobia as a means of rallying mass support in favour of its own interests (eg, wars against those who resist imperialist superexploitation) and as a means of dividing the working class against itself. But then xenophobia takes on a life of its own and seeks to prevent the British bourgeoisie from pursuing its best interests when these happen to lie in securing international cooperation with other imperialist powers.
There is some chance that the votes of the xenophobes will be what is needed to pull Britain out of the EU come the referendum on 23 June this year – which will in all probability prove disastrous for British imperialism.
To what extent this is so has been well expressed by The Economist: “Europe’s links to America would become more tenuous. Above all, the loss of its biggest military power and most significant foreign-policy actor would seriously weaken the EU in the world.
(Communist Party of Great Britain [Marxist-Leninist], “Why British workers need a Brexit” Proletarian On-Line, April 2016)
In short, Britain’s loss is everyone’s gain: the yobbos, xenophobes, Communists, and old farts, and self-serving Conservative politicians should be praised for taking one for team world. At least, that’s the theory.
And where, “unpleasant though it is”, we find ourselves hoping that maybe we can pull a Mexit of sorts.
Of course, a weakened United States would severely impact Mexico* — when the U.S. catches cold, Mexico contracts pneumonia as the saying goes. We are dependent on trade with the United States (and Canada) for what economic prosperity and political security we enjoy. Or that’s what we’ve been told (and sold).
In theory we don’t have to be dependent on commodities exports, or at least not on exports only to the U.S. and Canada. We would obviously not have the cash on hand (or, rather, our government and major companies) wouldn’t have the cash if the goods we export now were sold internally (the market for new automobiles is more than saturated, we don’t have the refineries we need for our own oil products, and with agricultural policy favoring export crops, would have an excess of food we couldn’t afford, and a shortage of basics like corn), but we do have the resources to be mostly self-sufficient. We’d survive.
As to security, how much the U.S. provides, and whether it is in our interest or their interest (as with the so-called “drug war”) is an open question. The small Mexican military (smallest per capita in the western hemisphere) seems to spend most of its time harassing people who are either a threat to the United States (narcos) or the elites (teachers, environmentalists, indigenous communities) and indirectly threaten foreign interests like mining firms or major corporations like Coca-Cola (the Yaqui nation’s fight over water rights is mostly because the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Hermosilla is sucking up most of the water). And besides, the French are less likely to invade us again, than they are to buy our avocados and our oil (and maybe our cars). China and Russia might want to gain influence here, but that’s more a problem for north of the border investors, and not us. Money is money, whether it’s Yuans or Dollars.
While dissatisfaction with NAFTA and the Rio Treaty have been a commonplace of the Mexican left, and one could see a Mexit movement coming from the left, there is, as there is in Britain, a xenophobic element often overlooked. Mexican nationalists though, range from the far right to the far left. There are still old-fashioned fascists here, who see globalism as a “Masonic-Zionist plot”, as well as a Catholic right, which sees the United States as a decadent Protestant anti-culture. And indigenous groups who want to be left alone. And some people are just assholes.
As a populist cause, a Mexit would have to appeal to left and right. And although nationalist, from far right to far left, there are “Bolivarians” who see Mexico in a pan-Latin context. Considering Bolivarianism was originally a concept developed by the Mexican far right (based on perceived common “Iberian and Catholic” social values) but extended to the left in recent years as a anti-Yanqui movement (or at least a mutual assistance one), the “nationalist” features of such a campaign would probably be more symbolic than overwhelming.
Not that xenophobia wouldn’t be likely to raise its ugly head. Violence against Central American migrants is a regular occurrence here, but that seems to be more crimes of opportunity against vulnerable people than any genuinely organized hatred against Guatemalans or Hondurans. And, were Mexico to stop cooperating with the United States in preventing migration through the Republic, much of the rationale for this violence would disappear, allowing it to be treated as common crime. It is possible that, as in the U.S., migrants would be accused of “stealing jobs” from the Mexicans, but I can’t recall any time in our history where foreigners have been targeted for stealing jobs… only for being paid more than Mexicans.
I could see the far right using nationalism as a rationale for attacking visible minorities like Koreans and the Catholic reactionaries attacking religious minorities and LGBTs, but whether it would be worse than now, I can’t say. The only real minority who might suffer would be the white expats. Having made ourselves the beneficiaries of imperialism, in a Mexit, we’d have to chose our sides, stay or leave.
I prefer to stay, Mexit or not.
* So does a weakened UK, and EU, at least in the short run. The peso has been falling against the U.S. dollar at an alarming rate for the last year, and the latest fall (as well as some budget cuts to education and public health) is being blamed on the British pound’s drop in international exchanges. And, U.S. dollars have been pouring into Mexico over the last week at an unprecedented rate.