“Are you a communist?”
“No I am an anti-fascist.”
“For a long time?”
“Since I have understood fascism.”
— Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Watching Tommy Robinson (Stephen Yaxley-Lennon) address hundreds of his supporters from atop a specially constructed platform outside the Old Bailey in central London on 23 October, proclaiming himself victim of a political witchhunt after his latest court appearance ended with his contempt charge being referred to the attorney general’s office, impossible it was not to be reminded of the early years of Mussolini, Hitler, Mosley et al., far right demagogues who in the late 1920s and early 1930s emerged as the coming men of a rebirth of racial, ethnic and national pride, pledging to sweep away the decadence and corruption of the liberal elite to effect the rightful place of the common pure bred Italian, German, English man at the apex of their respective societies; said place facing an existential threat from an influx of foreign-born aliens with their backward and alien cultural values.
The rise of this dismal trio came amid similar conditions of economic dislocation that Western economies are experiencing now, in our time, in what appears a chilling parallel. And too, as then so now the economic reins of society, despite this dislocation, have remained in the hands of neoliberal ideologues whose ideas gave us the worst global recession since the 1930s, and whose solution to its far reaching impact has been the imposition of austerity, sowing even more economic pain and concomitant misery in process.
Cometh the time cometh the man, they say, and in times of the anger, fear, confusion and hopelessness wrought by that which is blind — the forces of global capitalism, managed by a discredited political class — conditions are ripe for the rise of a demagogue to make the cause of everything that is wrong with the world visible and corporeal to those suffering its consequences.
While in the 1930s Jewish communities across Europe filled the role of enemy within for an emerging far right, depicted as adherents of an alien culture and religion, demonised as an existential threat to white European civilisation, today it is Muslims
The racialisation of rape and other sexual offences is nothing new, of course. It walks hand in hand with colonialism and white supremacy as part of the ideological apparatus that supports the racial hierarchy upon which the domination of the ‘other’ rests. The dread-fear of black men in the Deep South during the slavery era and thereafter belongs in the same white supremacist box, responsible for the lynching of black males for even daring to make eye contact with a white woman in times gone by.
Sexual grooming, rape and paedophilia are heinous crimes which are by no means exclusive to one race, religion or culture. The so-called Huddersfield Gang, locus of Tommy Robinson’s contempt charge, consisted of twenty individuals convicted of the systematic abuse and rape of fifteen vulnerable young girls between the ages of 11 and 17. Sixteen of those convicted have at time of writing been sentenced to a total of 220 years in prison, where it is hoped they will now rot, with the remaining four due to be sentenced next month.
Robinson’s attempt to intercede in the trial while it was live and ongoing endangered those convictions and sentences, a fact his supporters obviously consider of little import in relation to his self-anointed role as protector of the white race from the Muslim hordes threatening it with extinction.
Yet here we arrive at the rub. For if truly sincere about protecting vulnerable young women, including teenagers, from sexual abuse and exploitation, Robinson and his crew would surely be patrolling Heathrow Airport in order to stem the tide of white men departing on flights to Thailand each and every week to satiate their lust for young Asian girls living under conditions of desperate poverty and forced as a consequence to sell themselves. A significant number of those white men are no doubt sympathetic to the far right snake oil Robinson is peddling, and indeed some no doubt stand within the ranks of his supporters.
Presumably these Thailand sex junkets are okay though, what with the girls on the receiving end being non-white and foreign and the men exploiting and abusing them white, British and proud. It reveals that under the grotesque racial, religious and cultural hierarchy adhered to by the far right, some women and girls are deemed worthy of protection, while others are deemed worthy of use and abuse.
But lest we find ourselves dancing on the head of that particular pin and far right Trojan’s Horse over long, we are obliged to take an admonitory step back to survey the issue in its meta-dimension. And doing so, who could seriously argue that without the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn and his programme of structural reform to the nation’s economy, priorities and foreign policy, the propulsion of Tommy Robinson and the far right into the embrace of the mainstream would not have been anywhere as pronounced?
To put it another way, the politics of mass distraction is the lifeboat upon which an establishment in crisis sails when threatened by a viable alternative to the wealth, privileges and power that are the real menace to society .
Oswald Mosley’s rise in the 1930s was made possible, returning to the role of the establishment press and media, with the connivance of a ruling class that had reason to be fearful of the traction of socialist and communist ideas among a working class whose immiseration had reached the point of social explosion. Thus the Daily Mail’s overt support for the leader of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) was entirely logical from the point of view of the class whose interests it has always represented and upheld, tailoring its editorial line and style to the cause of pitting working people against one another on the basis of race, ethnicity, culture, sexuality and so on.
In fact not only the Mail the Daily Mirror also enjoyed a flirtation with Mosley and his BUF in the early 1930s, hailing the Blackshirts as an organisation that “will respect those principles of tolerance which are traditional in British politics.” The fact that both tabloids were at the time owned and part-owned by Lord Rothermere, the Rupert Murdoch of his day, was no accident of course, reminding us of the danger to a democracy of allowing newspaper and media ownership to be concentrated in the hands of a few plutocrats.
In our time Tommy Robinson was recently made the subject of a BBC Newsnight feature package, and previous to that was featured in an interview with popular US news anchor and talk show host, Tucker Carlson, on Fox News, allowed to present himself as a prisoner of conscience in relation to the six months he spent in jail for contempt.
Indeed the US dimension has been crucial in the grooming of Robinson as leader of the disaffected English masses of late. Steve Bannon, self-styled guru of a resurgent far right on the other side of the Atlantic and the man credited as the strategic force behind Trump’s election in 2016, described Tommy Robinson as the “backbone of this country” while on the visit in the UK in July. The former leader of the EDL has also received public support from Donald Trump Jr and his case was raised with Britain’s ambassador to the US, Sir Kim Darroch, by Trump’s ambassador for international religious freedom at the behest of the far right US website Breitbart.
Robinson’s traction, taking a wider view, correlates with a spike in growth of the far right across the West - to the point where we discern the establishment of a far right international in embryo, initiated by the aforementioned Steve Bannon. Whether his profile grows to the point of feeling emboldened to put himself forward for election at some point, perhaps as a UKIP candidate given the noises being made when it comes to the possibility of him being accepted into the ranks ofthe anti-migrant party, this remains to be seen.
Not in doubt is the fact that as in Britain in the 1930s, Tommy Robinson and the far right will not be defeated in the courts but in the street, confronted by a reconstituted anti-fascist movement — one which as the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 proved is the true guardian of democracy and justice when the chips are down.