It is hard to decide what was more abhorrent: the booing of players at The Den, home of Millwall FC, when they took a knee prior to the match against Derby County in solidarity with Black Lives Matter recently, or the squalid defence of the booing by such as Paul Embery, someone on the left in Britain who’s gained himself a deserved reputation in recent years for defending the indefensible.
Let us not pretend. Support for an entity in Britain referred to as the ‘white working class’ is support for a politics rooted in ethno-nationalism. It is pandering to nativism dressed up as defence of community and tradition. It is, in the last analysis, a politics that comes perilously close to the BNP — only with a bit of public ownership thrown in. For just as it doesn’t take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, it doesn’t require you to be ‘woke’ to know that a section of left in Britain has become corrupted by right wing ideas and tropes.
Britain’s cultural problem with bigotry is only hard to discern for those who, when the political going gets tough, choose to go along to get along instead of taking a stand on the side of its victims regardless of how difficult or unpopular such a stance may be.
The idealisation of the working class is not socialism. Defending a section of the working class when turns against other sections of the working class is the very acme of political opportunism. It is, in the sage of words of Nye Bevan describing a reactionary, “a man walking backwards with his face to the future”.
Brexit has ushered in the mainstreaming of nativism, xenophobia, anti-migrant bigotry and renewed pride in Britain’s barbaric colonial past. And socialism without internationalism in a post-colonial state is tantamount to surrender to your own ruling establishment.
Where I agree with Embery and that other poacher turned gamekeeper on the left, George Galloway, is that Guardianista progressives have infected the left from the centre. Their fixation on such political hobby horses as equality of opportunity instead of equality of outcome has only succeeded in cultivating growing disdain and rage in left behind working class communities across these islands.
Where the ideologically driven left has failed is in its response to deindustrialisation, bringing to an end the workplace as the main locus of struggle among a homogenous working class cohered around national industries that once were the backbone of the UK economy. Community activism should have been the new focus, but due to perhaps inertia combined with a fixation on trade union organisation, what ensued was huge swathes of the working class in the years since being left untouched by socialist ideas grounded in the objective of turning a class in itself into a class for itself.
This opened up space and opportunity for the right, and the right has taken full advantage. The 2008 financial crash and resulting global recession, culminating in Britain in ten years of Tory government and austerity, has concluded not with the transformational inclusive politics personified by Corbyn, but the success of the English nationalist project of Brexit, supported by a red wall whose justifiable anger after being nailed to the cross of austerity has been turned on the wrong targets — i.e. Brussels, migrant workers, and by extension existing minority communities, instead of the Tories, the bosses and false prophets such as Nigel Farage.
Millwall is a club whose fans have long been notorious for their bigotry and racism. Black and ethnic minority players going all the way back to the 1970s have, when playing in front of them, experienced being regaled with monkey chants, having bananas thrown onto the pitch at their feet, and insulted with racial epithets. The idea that what ensued at Millwall the other week was a protest against the ‘protracted moral lecture’ on racism Paul Embery claims is pure garbage.
There is hope, however, even in this regressive Brexit time. To see what I mean take yourself to Anfield in Liverpool or Celtic Park in Glasgow. There you will encounter fans that have embraced the politics of anti-racism and social justice, the embrace of internationalism, to see that there remains a future for the politics of class rather than ethno-nationalism masquerading as such.
Black Lives Matter is the tip of the spear in opposition to social, economic and racial oppression in Britain in our time. Those on the left who claim otherwise are scabs.
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