In last week’s Weekly Worker you published three short letters from supporters of the Football Lads Alliance, who were critical of my article, ‘Rising to the challenge’ (November 16). I would like to reply to Julie Stanley, Shane O’Neill and Michael Daley and thereby further develop what I was attempting to argue in that article.
I had two main purposes in writing about the FLA. One was to discuss its emergence and whether its two quite sizable marches in June and October had any wider political significance - especially given some recent comments by politicians and commentators about the ‘dangers of populism’ internationally. The second, and perhaps more important, aim was to discuss how the left was responding to this new movement. Above all, I hoped that that this discussion would illustrate the current political moment and point out some of the limitations and quite serious mistakes of groups like the Socialist Workers Party, which has made ‘mobilisation’ against racism and fascism a central part of their politics. These purposes are, of course, intimately connected and I hoped by writing this piece to begin a debate about these much broader aspects of contemporary politics.
It is interesting, and quite significant, that Julie, Shane and Michael focus on the issue of ‘racism’ and race in their short comments. Like many of the key speakers at the FLA marches, and in the subsequent comments about my article that have appeared on various social media sites, they vehemently deny they are racist or that they are part of the far right. Instead they claim to represent the politics and the ‘family values’ of a social group they refer to as the “white working class”.
In my article I suggested that in endlessly repeating this type of claim the FLA was protesting too much and that its sensitivity on this topic betrayed a concern about how some of its support base could be portrayed. Indeed the FLA’s attempts to distance itself from some leading far-right figures who have attached themselves to the group, and to wheel out ‘unrepresentative ‘Sikhs, ‘apostate Muslims’ and other ‘ethnic minorities’ at its rallies, illustrates this problem for the organisers of the FLA all too well.
However, my characterisation of the FLA did not turn on race or racism. Neither did I refer to the term ‘white working class’ in describing the composition of the two marches. Instead, by using a language of racial categorisation, it was our three correspondents, especially Michael Daley, who brought race, in this from, into the argument. Their language of identity politics not only mirrors ‘official multiculturalism’, which the FLA claims to stand against, but also fits very easily into the frames of the racialised politics that shapes the anti-racism of the SWP. Thus, far from challenging ‘politically correctness’, as they claim, it is the pleas of Julie, Shane and Michael for recognition for their self-defined “white working class” which ultimately reflect the dominant consensus they claim to rail against.
Rather than define the FLA in a rather lazy way as simply racist or fascist, my original article was at some pains to closely examine the language and the themes of its ‘politics’, such as they are, and locate this alliance in terms of chauvinism and a ‘plebeian patriotism’ which had deep historical roots and antecedents, especially amongst supporters of the Conservative Party. My main target was not the rather confused and reactionary nostalgia of the FLA or even its more dangerous, because unspecified, demands for ‘action against extremism’. The focus was rather on how the development of the FLA and groups like it reflected the failure of the left in general to provide a viable alternative for the working class.
The FLA is just one aspect of the widespread discontent with bourgeois ‘politics as usual’, which has emerged internationally since 2008. It has not yet taken a fascist form, the SWP’s alarmist calls to action notwithstanding: the crisis of politics and society has not yet reached that pitch, despite the overwrought analysis of Paul Mason et al (see The Guardian November 28), who constantly see fascism knocking at the door. However, the FLA is both a warning and a reproach to all of us who claim to be Marxists. We stand for the interests of the whole working class - a universal class that embodies the project of human emancipation, not a narrow, particularist politics based on identity and national chauvinism.
With their distorted echoes of ‘official multiculturalism’ both the FLA’s ‘white working class’ identity politics and the SWP’s ‘liberal anti-racism’ represent a dead end for the working class - and both are fundamentally opposed to revolutionary Marxism. In this volatile period of confused, inchoate politics, our goal must be to expose the reactionary nature of both of these particularist positions, and focus instead on developing a truly transformative politics that can rebuild and rearm our movement.
One of the most pernicious features of official anti-racism is its predilection for sniffing out bigotry and prejudice in any behaviour seen as ambiguous, ‘off message’ or ‘inappropriate’.
A great deal of the SWP’s knee-jerk hostility towards the Football Lads Alliance is politically motivated intolerance - zero tolerance - for views they consider objectionable. Much easier to write people off as racists than take the arguments on. James Harvey rightly identifies the lazy opportunism of the SWP, while giving the FLA some credit for adopting a “strong anti-racist stance” and explicitly distancing itself from “any connection to the far right”.
But I’m afraid he betrays his own prejudice when he reads evidence of bad faith in the group’s self-identification as anti-racist. If the FLA “protests too much”, then what about all those schools, prisons, police forces, universities, factories, shops and government departments that are publishing all those diversity and cultural awareness policies? When immigration removal centres are dutifully promoting anti-racism policies and guidelines for ‘faith and cultural provision’, it is clear that we are all anti-racist now.
Groups like Kick it Out, Show Racism the Red Card and Stand Up To Racism work on the assumption that British football clubs are breeding grounds for thuggish and racist behaviour. Considering the level of official restrictions on language and behaviour, whether through the policing of ‘bubble matches’ or zero tolerance of ‘vulgar and offensive’ chanting, it is not surprising that football fans might object to ‘political correctness’. There is a history of fans organising against official restrictions, including campaigns against the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act. Likewise political commentators like Kenan Malik, Adrian Hart and your own Kevin Bean and Mike Macnair have consistently put the left case against official multiculturalism, arguing against those colour-sensitive comrades whose imposition of racialised identities and promotion of competitive victimhood is corroding class solidarities and sowing division.
The SWP’s preoccupation with silencing opposition suggests a weakness in their own position - if all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. I expect more of the Weekly Worker. The FLA is voicing its disaffection with a government that appears unwilling or unable to govern in the interests of the electorate. I think James Harvey might agree with me that there could be some justification for this complaint. If their political stance is “reactionary and chauvinistic”, then that is another matter, and it is up to the left to simply put forward a better alternative.
Judging by James Harvey’s article on the FLA and the letters in reply, it appears that the ‘far left’ is set up on repeating all the mistakes that were made with the English Defence League.
Perhaps the most despairing letter comes from Michael Daley who asks: “Have you ever sat with anyone from the FLA and asked about their aims? Should you wish to discuss the issue at length, maybe you could learn something real about the working class people of the UK - the group you claim to be part of.” In fact, the vast majority of the left are of petty bourgeois social composition and the leaderships of the sects overwhelmingly so. Any ‘discussion’ would probably be marked by mutual incomprehension, especially concerning Islam, PC and immigration.
The sects only view as legitimate any ‘movement’, etc, set up in Conway Hall by Tariq Ali and other leftist ‘celebrities’. They would surely see the FLA as an insolent attempt by their social inferiors to bypass the ‘normal’ manner of setting up a protest organisation. Yes, I know that the left are always quoting “The emancipation of the workers must be the task of the working class itself!”, but this is said only as camouflage, to be safely ignored.
My prognosis is that it will not be very long before some Labour MP looking to secure their Islamic vote will denounce the FLA and attempt to label them as ‘troublemakers’, thus allowing the ubiquitous and totally misnamed Unite Against Fascism to decide that the FLA is indeed fascist and worthy of being no-platformed. This then absolves the lefties of any need to even pretend to engage in debate and, having totally failed to have made any progress on progressive, never mind revolutionary, activities, they can return to their nihilist bubble, untroubled by the real world.
It would seem absurd in the middle of a campaign against socialists in the Labour Party, for part of the left - itself under attack with suspensions and expulsions - to refuse to defend others and imply that some socialists really are worthy of expulsion. Such behaviour would surely be regarded as grotesque treachery by any class-conscious worker.
Apparently three members of the steering committee of Labour Against the Witchhunt have decided that Socialist Fight, one of only two organised Marxist trends at the initial meeting, are to be excluded. A statement to this effect was published in the Weekly Worker of November 23:
“Those, like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty, who promote the false anti-Semitism smear, who conflate anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism and who promote the myth of left anti-Semitism, are not welcome in LAW.
“Those, like Socialist Fight, who promote the ‘socialism of fools’- the view that imperialism’s support for Zionism and Israel is because of the influence of Jews - are also not welcome in LAW” (signed by Tony Greenstein, Stan Keable and Jackie Walker).
Aside from the anti-democratic nature of this decree - apparently we are to be excluded without any kind of hearing or democratic process, purely for our political views on the Israeli/Jewish question, there is a glaring contradiction between the two paragraphs above.
Apparently, the AWL are excluded, not because of their actions - refusing to defend leftwingers, which would be correct and rational - but purely for the ideas, from which those actions flow. This is no accidental formulation: if people were to be excluded from Labour Against the Witchhunt for refusing to oppose the witch-hunt, then surely these comrades would, on the basis of this statement, have to exclude themselves.
After all, by excluding expelled Labour member Gerry Downing from LAW, they are behaving no differently from the AWL: seeking to exclude Labour socialists whose programmatic and political stance they oppose, contrary to the elementary working class maxim that “an injury to one is an injury to all”. Whatever anyone may say about the politics of Socialist Fight, we are the only tendency demanding a genuine united front defence campaign and the reinstatement of all socialists expelled from Labour.
So the AWL are unwelcome for their ideas - conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and thus believing in “leftwing anti-Semitism”, which is apparently a “myth”. But if “leftwing anti-Semitism” is a myth, how come Socialist Fight is being excluded on the basis of the same myth? For two of the three signatories of the above statement are fellow-travellers of the Weekly Worker/CPGB, supporting its allied group in the Labour Party, known as Labour Party Marxists, as is comrade Keable, or a years-long sympathiser and contributor, as is comrade Greenstein.
Consistency is not the CPGB’s strong suit. Their anathema against our analysis of the role of Jewish bourgeois in the diaspora in bolstering Israel’s strength in the older imperialist countries goes back to 2014, when one of our now-leading members was driven out of the CPGB-initiated Communist Platform in Left Unity, before the Corbyn movement emerged. That anathema stated that our comrade had to be driven out because “Advocacy of anti-Semitic ideas is not the exclusive preserve of the far right … there is a left anti-Semitism too. Sadly that is still the case …. Anti-Semitism, especially its leftwing version, plays directly into the hands of the Israeli government” (‘No place for anti-Semitism’ Weekly Worker September 18 2014). So it seems that the ideological rationale by which CPGB fellow travellers seek to exclude AWL supporters from Labour Against the Witchhunt is one that the CPGB are also guilty of. It is key to their rationale for purging Socialist Fight.
This exclusion decree from the CPGB’s fellow travellers has the name ‘Jack Conrad’ written all over it. It is his practice, in the past and now, to sabotage real political and programmatic debate on the left through bureaucratic tricks. His motion in the Communist Platform in 2014, quoted above, was designed to stop discussion of the document, ‘Draft theses on the Jews and modern imperialism’, submitted for debate within the Communist Platform.
This time around, the exclusion has a similar purpose: stopping the kind of principled political debate that a genuine united front campaign should engage in to arm the workers’ movement politically against the Zionist/Blairite witch-hunt.
The CPGB’s fellow travellers accuse Socialist Fight of believing that “imperialism’s support for Zionism and Israel is because of the influence of a Jewish component of the capitalist class”. It is factually demonstrable that there exists a Jewish component within the ruling classes of western countries that exceeds, by many times over, the proportion of Jews in the general population, and that this part of the ruling class is overwhelmingly loyal to Israel. This does not determine the bare existence of a western alliance with Israel. What it does, however, is play an important role in transforming what would otherwise be a ‘normal’ relationship, similar to that of the US, UK, Germany, etc with each other, into a servile relationship, where states like the USA give barely critical support to Israeli atrocities against Palestinians that certainly do not accord with obvious US, UK, etc imperial interests.
This is an empirically obvious fact that has been noted by a wide range of observers - from Israeli dissidents like the late Israel Shahak and more recently Gilad Atzmon to Jewish diaspora dissidents like Norman Finkelstein, and even conservative US bourgeois observers like Mearsheimer and Walt.
Yet the CPGB and its allies deny that this phenomenon exists, and seek to deny workers’ democracy to those who draw attention to it. This is not an anti-racist struggle on their behalf, but a pandering to the nationalism and communalism of an oppressor people - as Jews have become today insofar as under Zionist leadership they manage to act collectively.