Published in Weekly Worker, 8 November 2012
There can be no annual Marxist school without a session on the far right and that was the case with Socialism 2012. But, credit where credit is due, the Socialist Party in England and Wales does not treat the subject as an easy recipe to stir up emotions, conjure up apocalyptic visions and cohere the troops around an easy target. Unlike the SWP’s, its treatment of the English Defence League is not only remarkably sober: it acknowledges that it is a social question rather than just one of physical threat.
Take the question of social base. The SWP assumes that fascism always and everywhere attracts primarily the declassed petty bourgeois – because that was the case in inter-war Germany, and because Trotsky’s famous analysis is, apparently, a timeless formula that one only needs to copy and paste. Back in the 1920s and 30s, however, the proletariat was solidly organised in mass parties and unions around social democratic and communist politics. The Communist Party of Germany was, by the early 30s, a ‘radical party of the unemployed’ as well as employed workers. But, given the low level of working class organisational culture in today’s Britain, surely the frustrated petty bourgeoisie is not the only social class that feels it has neither a future nor a political home? A study conducted by the Blairite think tank, Demos, would suggest that, despite its moneyed leadership and lumpen, hooligan hard core, the overwhelming majority of EDL supporters are backward, disaffected workers. Rather than worrying about burning poppies and Islam, anxiety about their future prospects and immigration seem to be their prime concerns.1
Consequently, SPEW does not limit its engagement with the EDL to hollering Unite Against Fascism demos, which set ‘us’ (the multicultural multitude) against ‘them’ (the fascists). In her talk, ‘How to combat the far right?’, London secretary Paula Mitchell drew attention to the importance of raising social demands in connection with anti-fascist work. Socialists needed to “go around the estates and argue for genuine class politics instead of capitulating to the liberal anti-fascism of the popular front”, she argued. In a contribution from the floor, a Greek comrade cited Golden Dawn’s ‘social programme’ of handing out food to “true Greeks” – where on earth, she wondered, was the numerically far stronger left?
There were a few more contributions from mainly young comrades – among them many anecdotal accounts of anti-EDL protests and local campaigns – before I intervened. The notion that a real political alternative is needed, I assured comrade Mitchell, was understood. I confessed I was sceptical, however, whether the Labour Party mark two advocated by SPEW, which would inevitably stand on a Keynesian platform of one sort or another, could possibly do this.
Despite their relatively diverse manifestations in modern history and sometimes anti-capitalist posturing, far-right movements are, in essence, parasitic on mainstream nationalist discourse, I pointed out. Mainstream nationalism, whether of the Conservative or Labourite variety, imbues its subjects with the idea that it is their right and duty to work for their country’s competitiveness and economic growth. This, it is promised, supposedly translates into abundance for the whole national collective.
Life under capitalism, however, can be quite disappointing. Leaders make ‘difficult decisions’. The country never seems to be performing well enough. Not even the dubious privilege of selling one’s labour-power for a living is secure. The frustrated nationalist is left asking questions, and the far right is happy to provide the answers: elements alien to the nation are undermining its coherence, morale and performance – and they do so in cahoots with treacherous, insufficiently patriotic governments. What is merely a radicalisation of already existing concepts thus assumes an anti-establishment posture.
Now, if we want to undercut the ideological breeding ground of the far right, I wondered, how about simply telling people the truth and nothing but the truth? What use is there in a new Labour Party, which would continue to sow illusions in economic recovery on the level of the nation-state – as if Britain was somehow disconnected from the world economy? What good is perpetuating the ideology of national ‘growth’ through investment, as SPEW is quite happy to do?2 Why not a party that argues for an explicitly Marxist, internationalist alternative – one that not only challenges fascist ideology by radically subverting the nationalist paradigm, but also points to a real way out of the mess that is global capitalism?
To advocate Keynesianism and nationalism as a ‘political alternative’, I concluded, did not actually represent an alternative to either the existing Labour Party or the far right.
Comrade Mitchell’s reply was not wholly satisfactory. The new workers’ party, she begged to differ, would not be like the old Labour Party at all: instead of only claiming to represent workers, it would provide “actual working class representation” and put forward “clear class politics”. This, she added, is what “ultimately undercuts the far right when talking to people on the estates”. What is more, SPEW would argue for “the best possible, socialist and internationalist programme” within that party.
The time was up, the session was over. Why building another nationalist workers’ party would be a better move than arguing for Marxist internationalism in the already existing one remained comrade Mitchell’s secret.
One needs a sense of perspective. Despite allegedly numbering 25,000-35,000 ‘members’, the EDL does not enjoy the support of more than a tiny segment of British society, and we are not yet in an economic situation such as Greece. However, as comrade Mitchell correctly observed, 80% of the cuts are yet to hit us. It is never too early to work towards an antithesis to the nationalist consensus currently spanning from the far left to the far right: a real Marxist party.
1. Given the unwillingness of the far left to seriously analyse the EDL’s social base and its tendency to use class categories as a means of moral condemnation, one has to make do with statistics such as those provided by Demos:www.demos.co.uk/files/Inside_the_edl_WEB.pdf?1331035419.