SWP: Outriders for the establishment
Wagging your finger at people for voting for the ‘racist’ Ukip is the wrong approach, says Eddie Ford
Opinion polls continue to make cheerful reading for Nigel Farage. A survey conducted on May 9 by the Mail on Sunday with regard to next week’s European elections has the UK Independence Party four points ahead of Labour on 32%, with the Tories on 21% and the Liberal Democrats languishing at 9%. Other polls have come out with similar findings, and, at the very least, Ukip will come a very good second. That will be humiliation enough for the Tories - beaten by a party that not so long ago they dismissed as a bunch of “fruit cakes, loonies and closet racists”. As for the Lib Dems, they appear to be facing wipe-out, regardless of who comes first or second. Serves them right.
No wonder then that all the mainstream parties, including the Scottish National Party, are turning their guns on the ‘fringe’ Ukip - the main charge being that it is “racist”. Obviously spending quite considerable sums of money, and linking up with allies in the media, the party machines are forensically examining every (or so it seems) blog post, Tweet, Facebook update, past interview, etc ever made by Ukip candidates in a rather desperate search for embarrassing ‘dirt’ - and lo and behold, they find it. Hence the headlines about gays being an “abomination”, Ed Miliband “not a real Brit”, all Nigerians “bad people”, and how Lenny Henry should return to a “black country”, etc.
Yet operation ‘Get Ukip’ is transparently disingenuous, if not an actively deceitful smear job. Ukip is standing a record 2,150 candidates in the local elections, not to mention running a full slate for the European elections. It would be a near miracle if you did not find some with highly eccentric or madly reactionary opinions. On a rough calculation based upon the number of ‘nutters’ uncovered so far by the media, they must account for 0.1%-0.2% of the total number of candidates fielded by Ukip - though no doubt that number could well rise, as the election gets closer. As we have seen, Farage deals ruthlessly with such individuals when they are put under the spotlight - they are immediately suspended or expelled (or jump first).
Just imagine if the same spotlight was turned on all the Tory candidates, as Farage himself has pointed out. Are we really supposed to believe that every one of them has a ‘politically correct’ line on gay marriage, for instance? That would be stretching credibility to breaking point. Indeed, though the Tory Party itself is officially anti-racist like every other mainstream party and institution in Britain, you can guarantee that in some local Conservative Party constituencies all manner of racist and other prejudices are muttered in dark corners over a pint. After all, only last year a “close ally” of David Cameron described Tory activists as “mad, swivel-eyed loons” - and, of course, a few of them have crossed over to Ukip. This does not prove as such that Ukip is full to the brim of such people, but rather that the basic outlook of a large section of its membership is barely distinguishable from that of the Tories.
Meanwhile, following the Delta debacle, the Socialist Workers Party is engaged in a desperate bid for popularity - it is facing extreme hostility not just from parts of the organised left (for sectarian and other reasons), but also from students on campus, traditional recruitment fodder for the organisation.
Therefore we see the SWP prioritising its pathetic new front campaign, Stand up to Ukip, which is based on the notion that Ukip is a racist party. After all, everyone opposes racism, don’t they? So surely that will make the SWP popular again. The front page of last week’s Socialist Worker featured a gagged Nigel Farage and the headline, “Shut it, Ukip!” (May 6). The accompanying article by comrade Judith Orr, apart from telling us that, since Ukip is not a fascist party, it is “not a matter of trying to deny it a platform to speak”, complains that the mainstream parties “may denounce” Ukip as “racist”, but they do not challenge its “anti-immigration position”. And the latest issue carries on the same theme, lamenting the fact that the migrant-bashing of mainstream politicians “feeds” Ukip and makes them unable to challenge Nigel Farage (May 13).
For communists the stance adopted by the SWP is highly problematic. Firstly, whether theoretically or historically, we are not aware of any precedent or absolute principle that automatically commits us to ‘no-platforming’ fascists: that is a purely tactical question. Sometimes we may try to crack their skulls in and other times we might debate with them, depending on the concrete circumstances.
Secondly, we strongly question the idea that Ukip is “racist”. Why do our SWP comrades think so? The reason appears to be, as the internal Party Notes argues (May 5), because Farage wants a points-based immigration system like the one in Australia. If you are a skilled Pole, African, Chinese person, European or whoever, white or black, then you are welcome. But if not, then bugger off, as Farage does not want you. To use the words attributed to him in Party Notes, such unskilled Poles, Africans, etc have come to “take our resources” - which is “not a race question”, but instead a matter of “our country’s needs”.
According to the SWP, Farage’s apparent non-racism - even anti-racism, you might say - is actually a form of disguised or “sophisticated” racism, to be contrasted to the crude master-race stuff you used to get from British National Party and National Front. In fact, we read in Party Notes, racism is “central” to the growing appeal of Ukip.
The flaw in the argument is obvious. What Farage is articulating above is the totally mainstream view that migrants are a problem if there are too many of them, taking jobs that should go to British workers - as Gordon Brown once said - or acting as a drain on the NHS, gobbling up precious housing stock, and so on. In other words, Farage fully signs up to the ‘common sense’ national chauvinist consensus. Thus communists can think of no rational reason to disbelieve him when he says that Ukip is a “non-racist” party - is he part of a conspiracy or something? Farage genuinely seems to want previous immigrants - whatever their ethnicity - and their descendants to integrate into British society and wave the union jack outside Buckingham Palace alongside Mr and Mrs Smith.
Yes, of course, the SWP comrades are quite right to say that one of the problems with the mainstream parties is that they are playing the Ukip game - ie, they all subscribe to one degree or another to the idea that migrants, or ‘outsiders’, are a problem and hence we need some form of immigration controls. For instance, the Tories have stupidly committed themselves to reducing immigration down to “tens of thousands” - which is a total fantasy, since it just cannot be done while Britain remains in the European Union. As soon as the UK economy starts to grow, more people will start heading for London and other British cities.
Naturally, Farage agrees with the Tories and says he shares the same goal, but with one important difference - he actually has some sort of viable way of doing it: that is, by getting out of the EU and thus no longer being bound by the obligation to allow the free movement of labour. At the very least, Ukip has a clear and easily understood position - unlike the other parties. Labour just equivocates and squirms, blabbing about how they got it a bit wrong over Poland, understand the “concerns” of ordinary people - and other such bullshit. As for the permanently embarrassed - and compromised - Lib Dems, they waffle on about how they are “committed” to Europe, but unfortunately they are hitched to the Tory wagon due to the realities of the coalition.
But what is the response from the SWP? “Immigrants are welcome here.” However, given that Ukip is “racist”, as it wants a points-based immigration policy, then we can only presume that any party which wants to impose some sort of border controls must too be racist - logic does not permit any other conclusion. In which case, what about the No2EU lash-up between the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and the Socialist Party in England and Wales? Like Ukip, it too wants to exit the EU and stop the free movement of labour - but on the ‘socialist’ basis that it hands bosses the “ability to dictate the terms of employment through exploiting a reserve army of labour” and also because the right to free movement for workers is shaped by EU courts and directives “outside the scope of democratically accountable bodies such as national parliaments”.1
Does that make No2EU racist then? If we are to stick to the criteria outlined by the SWP, then there can only be one answer - yes. Leaving aside the left verbiage, in terms of general principle No2EU has in reality exactly the same approach as the other parties - British jobs, and rights, must be defended against outsiders. But, just like Ukip, No2EU advocates a real measure that would enable the drawbridge to be pulled up - withdrawal from the EU.
Or perhaps moving closer to home for the SWP, what about George Galloway? In the pages of the Morning Star he notoriously denounced the idea of open borders and advocated a points-based immigration system on the grounds that “every country must have control of its own borders”, as “no-one serious is advocating the scrapping of immigration controls” - and put forward the distinctly Farageian notion that Respect should publish an “economic-social-demographic plan for population growth”, based on a points system and “our own needs” (February 12 2005). Once again, if we are to accept the SWP’s definition of racism, then Galloway and Respect were racist at the very time the SWP was trying to build that organisation.
Thanks a lot
There is another big problem with the SWP’s overall approach. In the May 6 Socialist Worker we discover that the comrades want to build an “anti-racist core” in the working class.2 In reality though, that does not amount to much more than standing outside Ukip meetings idiotically shouting ‘Racist!’ at those going inside. But it is pretty clear that there is already an “anti-racist core” in the working class - as well as in society as a whole. Yet, if we were to believe the SWP, we would have to draw precisely the opposite conclusion: not only the 30% or so who vote for Ukip in the EU elections will be supporting a “racist” party, but so too will about 99% of the others - Tories, Lib Dems, Labour, No2EU ... A racist landslide, it seems.
Bluntly, the SWP is being tactically, strategically, politically and theoretically stupid. It is placing itself in a position where the mainstream parties, especially the Tories - appreciate the irony if you can - are able to turn around to the SWP and say, ‘Thanks for the good job you are doing for us’ - as outriders for the Westminster establishment. The implication of Stand up to Ukip is that you can vote for any of the ‘respectable’ parties - that is entirely unproblematic. As Stand up to Ukip innocently declares on its website, “people of goodwill” must come together to oppose Ukip “regardless of our differing views on Europe or other political issues” - not much ambiguity there: vote Tory if you have to.3
To put it very mildly, the SWP central committee has made a poor calculation about how to save the organisation, given the terrible stink over Delta - give the cadre something to do that will lift their spirits and is more fun than defending Martin Smith or the disputes committee. Yes, mindlessly chase the tail of Ukip in pretty much the same manner as they chase after the English Defence League - a bit of hyper-activism never does any harm, at least if you are a bureaucratic leadership.
The end result though, pitifully, is that the SWP central committee is engaged in a hopelessly ineffective, popular frontist campaign - one doomed to ignoble failure - and is not even prepared to do battle with the chauvinism of the mainstream parties. Even worse, through its Stand up to Ukip campaign, it is in reality lining up with those mainstream parties against a ‘fringe’ party that is making inroads into the Tory vote in particular.
Although Ukip is evolving ideologically, it clearly has elements of Poujadism - a virulent populism that is essentially a more rightwing version of Thatcherism. About the only thing that makes it different from ‘old Thatcher’ is that Farage is more blunt about Europe - he wants out. Other than that, when it comes to neoliberalism, austerity, trade unions, workers’ rights - you name it - Ukip more or less acts as the mirror-image of Thatcher and the Tory Party right. It is not a unique threat, let alone a racist one. Ruling class ideology, as obviously we have to keep telling our myopic SWP comrades, is today national chauvinism, not racism.
In terms of the whole SWP discourse there is another troubling feature. From the way it discusses this question, you might think that anti-immigrant sentiment (what it dubs “racism”) comes entirely from above. But in reality it is also found below as a seemingly logical reaction to a bad situation. A worker whose pay has been cut or who has just lost their job does not have to be crazy or racist to conclude that if there were fewer migrants the pressure on jobs and wages would be eased. The same goes for housing: you cannot find anywhere to live, yet London is being bought up by wealthy foreigners. Once again, this is not an irrational response - politically and economically naive, yes, but not a form of madness.
In other words, some of the responses to mass immigration - including voting Ukip - are a deflected form of the class struggle. We need to understand that what we are dealing with here to a large extent is an instinctive sectionalism that treats the entire UK as a giant pre-entry closed shop - like the trade unionism of the 1970s dockers, printworkers, etc, writ large. Under such circumstances, the role of communists and revolutionary socialists is to advance tactics and strategies that will unite the working class, regardless of nationality or ethnicity.