As a matter of urgency in the UK and across Europe there needs to be a realignment of progressive forces, resolutely and unapologetically pro-migrant and in defence of multiculturalism.
The ugly scenes in London on March 29th, which saw thousands of racists and fascists congregate under the banner of the Brexit Betrayal March, were no aberration. They bore witness to a resurgent far right — emboldened, fuelled and confident in its strength as a result of the legitimation and normalisation of anti-migrant, Islamophobic and nativist tropes within the mainstream under the guise of Brexit.
Brexit was and is a revolt against the centre from the right in response to the crisis of neoliberalism. It is the UK manifestation of the recrudescence of reactionary and ultra nationalist politics that has taken place across Europe in response to this crisis, evincing a striking parallel with the 1930s. Thus Bertolt Brecht was right: “The womb from that which crawled remains fertile.”
You do not have to be a fulsome supporter of the EU or liberalism to oppose Brexit, just as communists and socialists in Germany in the early 1930s did not have to support the Weimar government in order to oppose the rising tide of fascism then. That the pro-Brexit left failed to learn this lesson has only wrought confusion and been, at least in part, responsible for the lack of any serious and coherent resistance to the rise of the far right in recent times. The right is clearly now winning the battle of ideas among large swathes of the working class, specifically in post-industrial regions of England, when it comes to locating responsibility for the grievous consequences of austerity at the door of migrants, Muslims and minorities in general.
The resurgence of the far right, led and inspired by Tommy Robinson, but also with a more refined and larger cohort coalescing around the right wing of the Tory Party, led by Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, has produced an eruption of counter-multiculturalism, nativism, reaction and racism within a growing section of the predominately English white working class — all of it incubating over the course of the class war unleashed by the Tories under the rubric of the aforementioned austerity.
Strip away the obfuscation and dissembling and austerity is an exercise in effecting the redistribution of wealth from the working class and the poor to the rich and corporations with the aim of maintaining the rate of profit; this in response to the worst economic crisis and recession since the 1930s. The net result of austerity after eight years is Dickensian levels of poverty, destitution and concomitant despair. Neoliberalism is to all intents dead as a viable economic model. However rather than bury its corpse the political class, acting as de facto agents of the banks and global corporations, has worked to keep it on life support, thereby exacerbating rather than ameliorating the crisis.
A left which attempts to win the allegiance of the working class by appeasing its most regressive and least conscious strata is headed for perdition. It is simply not tenable to join in the demonisation of migrants on the basis that free movement undercuts wages. Only the most feckless doctrinaire would embrace the capitalist principle of supply and demand as the cornerstone of his or her analysis and praxis. The trade union movement was founded to interfere with this principle in the interests of the working class on the basis of struggle; and it is only on the basis of struggle that it will be defeated today. The alternative is to become a pawn in their game.
There is no arguing with the fact that culturally the post-industrial English working class in regions of the country have succumbed to national myths surrounding Britain’s colonial history, a history wielded by mainstream Brexit political forces as a reflex against multiculturalism and misplaced sense of Britain’s role in the world. Add to this noxious cocktail the blowback from British foreign policy in the Middle East, fuelling a spate of terrorist atrocities, and we have ourselves something approximating to a perfect storm.
Consequently, and as a matter of urgency, there needs to be a realignment of progressive forces in the UK and across Europe. That those progressive forces are resolutely pro-migrant, pro-multiculturalism, and understand the difference between the near enemy, the far right, and the far enemy, an EU which in its current form is a product of neoliberalism rather than its cause, is imperative.
The answer to the extreme centre is not and can never be the far right. The carnival of reaction unleashed by Brexit confirms it.