Against the fascist creep, against left nationalism
This week has seen a grim example of this convergence, as UKIP's leader Gerard Batten announced he had hired "Tommy Robinson" - real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - as an "advisor" on so-called "rape gangs" and prison reform. Yaxley-Lennon is formally ineligible to join the party, as he is a former member of both the fascist British National Party and his own English Defence League. And should be considered toxic for his constant incitement to hatred and violence. He is particularly ill-suited to advising on child sexual exploitation and criminal justice, given his own record of violent criminality, contempt of legal due process, lack of respect for women, and online sexual harassment of teenage girls.
Over the next few days, he was busy spreading fake news about the shocking Syrian refugee schoolboy bullying incident Huddersfield - fake news that will have had the effect of amplifying xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry, and probably contribute to future attacks. This was all the more grim because it was his ideas that appear to have influenced the bully.
The boy who attacked the Syrian kid has a Facebook page full of posts about "Tommy Robinson" and Britain First. He's a bully yes - he's also a victim. He's been groomed online by the far right which @GerardBattenMEP and others are attempting to bring into the political mainstream— Otto English (@Otto_English) November 28, 2018
On Saturday 9 December, Yaxley-Lennon has announced he will lead a pro-Brexit march on parliament, under the strapline of “The Great Brexit Betrayal”. The elite's "stab in the back" is a right-wing trope of some vintage, most notoriously a theme of the Nazis.
|An illustration from a 1919 Austrian postcard showing a caricatured Jew stabbing the German Army in the back with a dagger. The capitulation was blamed upon the unpatriotic populace, the Socialists, Bolsheviks, the Weimar Republic, and especially the Jews. Source: Wikipedia|
No to Tommy Robinson, No to Fortress Britain
Let’s see. Tommy Robinson and the SWP both— Bob From Brockley (@bobfrombrockley) November 28, 2018
✊🏻have a record of violence against women
✊🏻distrust bourgeois courts
✊🏻are middle class wankers who claim to represent the working class
✊🏻think leaving the EU is a glorious working class rebellion.
It is quite true to say that Robinson is using the Brexit moment to recruit followers and bolster his credibility in the political mainstream. But that is only a fraction of the story. The narrative of national betrayal and imperial nostalgia is at the heart of Brexit, and always has been. The aim of the Brexit project was always to take the nastiest narratives on immigration, race and nationalism and, with the use of a popular vote, put these ideas on the winning side of history. At the moment, swathes of the left seem content to leave them there.
For two years now, the British left has been trapped in a logic of triangulation on Brexit. The overwhelming majority of the left backed remain in 2016, and the overwhelming majority of Labour members now back a fresh referendum. But as Robinson and Ukip march, many on the left, hamstrung by loyalty to the Labour leadership’s fudge on the subject, will attempt to argue the impossible: that the left should oppose the far right, but accept its greatest achievement.
Last week, I looked at Angela Nagle's "left" case for borders as one example of the new left nationalism. Atossa Araxia Abrahamian in The Nation argues, correctly in my view, that there is no left case for nationalism: "The willingness of the left to play by the far right’s rules and according to their narrative is part of what got us into this mess."I’d add that today’s Labour flirts with this suicidal policy too... pic.twitter.com/BfO8wTF0wa— Bob From Brockley (@bobfrombrockley) November 28, 2018
And yet large swathes of the left are playing by these far right rules. The support for Brexit by the SWP, Counterfire, the Socialist Party, George Galloway and especially the Morning Star would be one example - with many of the Novara-style new leftists sounding more and more like them, with the ridiculous idea of a "People's Brexit". Die Linke's Sahra Wagenknecht in Germany and La France Insoumise's Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France (the latter spoke at this year's Momentum fringe event, The World Transformed) increasingly articulate nationalist themes: France is no longer an "independent country", says Mélenchon; “Open borders in Europe means more competition for badly paid jobs,” says Wagenknecht.
Malcolm James and Sivamohan Valluvan have a very long piece in Salvage on the left's failure to reckon with nationalism. I hope they don't mind if I quote a couple of long extracts from it, as their arguments against left nationalism are somewhat buried in their complex analysis of the current conjuncture.
As the dust settles on the  election, nationalism has begun to return to left politics, parliamentary and otherwise – because it never left. In parliamentary Labour, we see Corbyn’s initial quietism on migrants’ rights accumulating a more recognisable anti-migrant language; we see it in the recent pronouncements of MPs Gloria De Piero and Graham Jones on the ‘white working class’; we see it in the formation of John Denham’s English Labour Network; but, perhaps more importantly, we also see it in the continued attempt by influential opinion-makers to lend anti-immigration sensibilities a more pronounced left-wing rationale...
Those in such corners of the Left even cite Trump, Brexit and Le Pen as the results of straightforward anti-capitalist impulses. Such a version of the crisis critique, endorsed in part by journalist Paul Mason, and often put forward by merchants of progressive contrarianism and/or self-styled spokespersons of working-class authenticity, then accepts retrenchment to the nation as an anti-neoliberal move. The fact that some middle-class people oppose nationalism further compounds their mistaken notion that the new nationalist cry must be anti-capitalist, or at the very least, a recognisable act of anti-elite, working-class assertion.
This is bad Marxism done worse. It takes the metaphor of oppositional class interests and writes it into every streak, corner and recess of culture and ideology...
One prominent left-nationalist move regarding contemporary crisis is the ‘the working class has spoken’ ploy. Here, the multiple dimensions of nationalism are reduced to a working-class politics, an insurrection via the ballot box. Anti-immigration becomes a normalised sentiment of working-class populations...at the same time as it is read as anti-capitalist politics... These articulations occur in a wider left discursive environment that too often presumes the historic entitlement of ‘indigenous’ white working-class people. Weaned on soap operas, the memory of a Blitz spirit, the golden era of the welfare state, and football as it used to be, many left vanguardists indulge this position by distinguishing the entitlements of the white working class against the illegitimate claim to the same made by ‘new migrants’....
In sum, the left-nationalist argument hinges on a conflation of essentialised, fetishised whiteness with working-class struggle and anti-capitalism. A defence of class becomes a defence of whiteness, and, by extension, of the nation and anti-immigration politics. This reading of working-class politics is, then, an argument for nationalism and racism, and it inevitably harms working-class people.
As Maya Goodfellow comments, to realise a popular politics without appealing to the totems of anti-immigrant xeno-racism might seem a Sisyphean task. But it is the challenge that must be reckoned with, as otherwise [the left] merely gives succour to the nationalist call...
Labour’s continued silence on various toxically racialised debates – on immigration and the border; on security and policing; alongside a failure to more forcefully complicate exclusionary, often nostalgically white, visualisations of community – is deafening. (We note for instance that Labour has not challenged the prominent Brexit position on the curtailment of free movement in any noteworthy sense, suggesting a shortage of political will where it most matters). As such, whilst we remain cautiously encouraged by many aspects of this Labour leadership’s agenda, its prevarication on these key matters (as profiled in our essay) is both frustrating and dangerous – even when taking into account the scarcity of political capital at this moment for a social democratic leadership that is routinely slandered and under attack, from within and without.In short, the left needs to abandon its flirtation with nationalism, and instead work out how to win over more people to a politics of solidarity.
Previous posts: Against Chris Williamson, Angela Nagle and Stand Up To Racism; Two ways to fight the far right DFLA; What's wrong with Unite Against Fascism?; What is anti-fascism?; On nationalism.