The Great Rebellion is on and where it leads nobody knows.
Its expressions range from Brexit to the Trump phenomena and includes neo-nationalist and unconventional insurgent movement around the world. It shares no single leader, party or ideology. Its very incoherence, combined with the blindness of its elite opposition, has made it hard for the established parties across what’s left of the democratic world to contain it.
What holds the rebels together is a single idea: the rejection of the neo-liberal crony capitalist order that has arisen since the fall of the Soviet Union. For two decades, this new ruling class could boast of great successes: rising living standards, limited warfare, rapid technological change and an optimism about the future spread of liberal democracy. Now, that’s all fading or failing.
Living standards are stagnating, vicious wars raging, poverty-stricken migrants pouring across borders and class chasms growing. Amidst this, the crony capitalists and their bureaucratic allies have only grown more arrogant and demanding. But the failures of those who occupy what Lenin called “the commanding heights” are obvious to most of the citizens on whose behalf they claim to speak and act.
The Great Rebellion draws on five disparate and sometimes contradictory causes that find common ground in frustration with the steady bureaucratic erosion of democratic self-governance: class resentment, racial concerns, geographic disparities, nationalism, cultural identity. Each of these strains appeals to different constituencies, but together they are creating a political Molotov cocktail.
The Brexit vote reflected the class aspect of the Rebellion. The London Times post-election analysis , notes socialist author James Heartfield, found the upper classes 57 percent for remain, the upper middle class fairly divided, while everyone below them went roughly two-thirds for leave. It doesn’t get much plainer than that.
This dissent reflect the consequences of the globalization celebrated by elites in both parties. Britain’s industrial workforce, once the wonder of the world, is half as large as it was as just two decades ago. The social status of the British worker, even among the Labour grandees who pay them lip service, has been greatly diminished, notes scholar Dick Hobbs, himself a product of blue collar east London. “There are parts of London,” he writes, “where the pubs are the only economy.”
As labor has struggled, writes Heartfield, “the Labour Party became more distant, metropolitan and elitist. It sought to re-write the party’s policy to mirror its own concerns, and also to diminish working people’s aspirations for social democratic reform in their favour. “
A similar scenario has emerged here in America, where corporations—especially those making consumer goods—have grown fat on access to Chinese, Mexican and other foreign labor. Like their British counterparts, the U.S. working class is falling into social chaos, with declining marriage and church attendance rates, growing drug addiction, poor school performance and even declining life expectancy. Even during the primary campaign, as both Sanders and Trump railed against globalization United Technologies saw fit to announce the movement of a large plant form Indianapolis, where about 1,500 jobs were lost, to Monterrey.
And much as the leave wave crested in just those parts of the U.K. where trade with Europe is highest, so is Trump support highest in the Southern states that now dominate what remains of American manufacturing.