The European exile

There is no question that the world is undergoing tectonic geopolitical and economic shifts. Talks of a re-emerging multipolar world order become increasingly hard to ignore, even for the most oblivious in the public discourse, and for the global majority, this process is a crucial step towards a rejection of colonialist and imperialist dominance.

But a disconnect from the Western worldview is also deeply felt in the belly of the beast – many Europeans are having a hard time relating to their countries’, let alone their continent’s, foreign and domestic policies. Arguably, feeling alienated and systematically excluded from the dominant discourse has always been a commonality amongst radical leftist activists around the world. Take Black Panthers repeatedly being accused of being ‘anti-American’ and Israelis calling out their apartheid regime being labelled as ‘self-hating Jews’. Similarly, in Europe, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist voices are dismissed for being enemies of their own people.

When the objective is to examine the deep-rooted beliefs of supremacy and exceptionalism of Europe, taking a firm leftist stance has to be synonymous with a certain degree of being in exile whilst in Europe. This must include calling out the idea of Europe in its current form as nothing but the continuation of the colonial, capitalist project which will continue to harm the 99 percent both in its own centre as well as in the ‘periphery’.

Arguably, this harm has become increasingly tangible and apparent, with more and more people in Europe refusing to put up with their elite’s schemes to cling to power – while neglecting their populations and externalising costs for both people and planet. These are phenomena that exiles living in Europe and abroad have been calling out for a long time.

Take recent examples: We see French workers standing by while Parisian streets are overflowing with garbage. European public transport frequently comes to a halt as personnel are making use of their basic right to strike. People from Dublin to Berlin and Athens are rallying to protest Fortress Europe, warmongering and empty ideological promises by their decision-makers. As opposed to what people in power are trying to insinuate, those revolts do not happen merely because citizens are “too comfortable” or not able to grasp the requirements of “realist politics”. What we are witnessing is nothing short of an entire reconceptualisation of how Europe is being perceived, both by people living within its artificially imposed borders and beyond. What might seem like a random chain of disruptive events could be the first buds of a pan-European movement which is not willing to accept the widening disconnect between the political class’s actions and attitudes and what is actually needed to create a viable future for the people of Europe. And there is no doubt that a frustration with domestic policies has to translate into a wider anti-capitalist, anti-imperial stance that stands in solidarity with other internationalist agendas.

People striking and taking to the streets denying to put up with the rhythm of day-to-day life is one of the most essential democratic rights – currently under threat in more than one European country – and at the same time, an act that debunks the abysmal shortcomings of European society. For the withdrawal of your labour power is arguably the only weapon of choice in a capitalist system which respects workers for nothing but the profit it can generate off that exact labour.

Include in the abhorrent aspects of European exceptionalism, from Frontex to Josep Borrell’s garden narrative and the blatant racism within its own borders, and it comes as no surprise that this is not a project large parts of the European public find worth engaging in. Quite the opposite: People living in Europe seem to be less and less committed to jointly weaving the social fabric.

Debunking imperial citizenship

How do we expect liveable futures and genuine social networks to flourish within a framework that still desperately clings to neo-colonial and neoliberal notions in order to defend its claim to international supremacy? A system which is rotten at its core won’t be able to grow structures worth maintaining. The rejection of these structures by the people of Europe is therefore the only way to carve out a sustainable path for the continent in the re-emerging multipolar world. Debunking imperial citizenship, as suggested by writer and theorist Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, and the lies which have been told in order to turn citizens into complicit agents, is an essential part of this process.

Maybe this is us rediscovering our inherent human ability to question and challenge the dominant social order, as anthropologist David Graeber and archeologist David Wengrow observed in their book The Dawn of Everything. They make a strong case for why it is far from natural for humans to accept a certain status quo and why the dominant ideas of freedom perpetuated by today’s political discourse are ambiguous at best and dangerously misleading at worst.

Faced with a changing geopolitical climate in which it becomes increasingly difficult to externalise the cost of profiteering for the one percent, cuts to public spending and a retreat of the “welfare state” has become a common tool for European governments to fund simultaneous militarisation efforts. Those budgets are moral documents. They demonstrate clearly what political economist Radhika Desai described so eloquently in her book Capitalism, Coronavirus and War:

“Just as the dominant ideas in a society are the ideas of the ruling classes in which their special interests are tricked out in the garb of general social interests, so at the international level, the dominant ideas are the ideas of the ruling classes of the dominant nations in which their special interests are articulated as those of the countries they dominate.”

It would be fair to assume that the converging crises of the past three years have accelerated and fuelled the turmoil we are currently witnessing. But it has always been unavoidable. The only people who genuinely care for a just and sustainable future of Europe – in whatever form that might be – are those who bravely acknowledge and point out that the path it is currently taking will only lead to more self-illusion and ultimately misery of which its 99 percent will have to bear the brunt. We need a hard reckoning with history, a returning commitment to community, and strong ideas to imagine otherwise going forward.

Taking this stance openly can be a very isolating experience in the current political landscape. Talking about this feeling of disconnect and disbelief in the face of European decision-makers’ cognitive dissonance, a friend of mine mentioned she felt strongly reminded of exile literature. And is the image of European exiles not an utterly fitting one? Just like they forcefully alienated populations around the world, the European elite is alienating everyone who dares to question the status quo within their own borders. Those killjoys need to foster internationalist bonds of solidarity in order to uphold the pressure.

We believe that one of the most effective ways of doing that is to share our experiences of exile – both physical and ideological – with fellow members of the leftist activist sphere. This is where we hope you come in: How did you experience those processes of disconnect and alienation? What are ways in which you have dealt with it, and how would you share those with fellow activists around the globe? And what are viable ways to move from a feeling of being forcefully silenced to a wave of bonding with other people experiencing exile? Correspond with us via – we are keen to hear your voices.


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