No to Tommy Robinson, no to Brexit

By KD Tait

ON 9 DECEMBER, fascist leader Tommy Robinson will attempt to rally Brexit supporters in a march through London against what he calls the government’s ‘Great Brexit Betrayal’.

This demonstration will mark Tommy Robinson’s first public appearance as UKIP ‘consultant’ on ‘grooming gangs’, a post arranged by the party’s new leader Gerard Batten, who has been a regular, and virulently Islamophobic, presence on the Democratic Football Lads’ Alliance protests this summer.

The goal of this movement is explicit; to unite the street-fighting and electoral wings of the far right on the basis of the virulent British nationalism, Islamophobia and all-purpose xenophobia legitimised by the campaign to leave the EU, which had ending European migration as its central motivation.

Tommy Robinson is not yet the leader of the 52 per cent. But he is the most high profile and dangerous leader of the growing British far right. Nor is Gerard Batten the leader of the 52 per cent. But he is the leader of the party most clearly identified with winning the Brexit vote.

By recycling the ‘stab in the back’ myth to explain the fact that Brexit will not deliver the promised results. By exploiting the lies about migrants which underpinned much of the Brexit vote, by drawing on the links and campaigning methods of an emboldened international far right movement headed up by Steve Bannon, Robinson and Batten hope to rally those disaffected by the Tory civil war, and present their movement as the genuine, anti-establishment, pro-Brexit force that can actually deliver ‘the will of the people’ – by any means necessary. Appearing on the streets in force masquerading as “the British people” is an essential component of this project, whose model is the experience of Pegida and Alternative fur Deutschland in Germany.

As such, it is a dangerous development, which demands a united response by the labour movement. A coalition of groups including Momentum, local Labour Parties, Another Europe Is Possible and Stand Up To Racism, have called for a united demonstration under the slogan ‘No to Tommy Robinson – No to Fortress Britain’.

Red Flag supports the widest mobilisation possible, drawing in communities, labour movement organisations, and anti-racists. The demonstration should aim to face down Tommy Robinson’s show of strength, demoralise his supporters, and prevent them from using their march to consolidate a new racist movement.

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The entry of the far right into the Brexit crisis under their own banner has highlighted the divisions which exist on the left, between those who oppose Brexit, recognising it as an inherently reactionary, nationalist project, and those who support Brexit but want to downplay the responsibility of the Brexit campaign for fuelling the growth of racism and the far right.

These divisions are most sharply expressed in the attacks mounted by pro-Brexit organisations against Another Europe is Possible for building the demonstration under the slogan – ‘No to Tommy Robinson, no to Brexit’, or in the SUTR demand ‘Don’t let Tommy Robinson hijack Brexit’.

It is understandable why Brexit-supporting organisations are embarrassed by the fascists’ attempt to exploit Theresa May’s crisis to paint themselves as the only supporters of a ‘real’ Brexit. But denouncing anti-Brexit socialists for raising their own slogans on the demonstration is not an appeal for unity – it is an attempt to muzzle political differences and an ultimatum for unity on their terms. There is no question that the overwhelming majority of the left opposes Brexit for principled anti-racist and internationalist reasons, and Sunday will prove that.

Of course we can, and should, have a united front for a specific anti-racist demonstration, but within that demonstration people have to be free to raise their own slogans; and we believe the main threat is Brexit, since that is a project which belongs to the right and cannot be reclaimed by the left.

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The Brexit vote was underpinned by a systematic campaign of racist and chauvinist propaganda, blaming European governments and migrants for the acute decline in living standards, jobs, and wages which were, in fact, caused by the neoliberal and austerity policies pursued by successive UK governments.

The Brexit campaign which secured victory in the referendum was a right wing offensive which mobilised a reactionary mass vote against both the dominant wing of UK capital and the working class, on the lie that kicking out migrants and regaining ‘national sovereignty’ would improve the conditions of British, meaning white, people.

Three facts prove the reactionary basis of the Brexit campaign:

The first was the widespread ‘Breaking Point’ poster which depicted Syrian refugees as a foreign horde descending on Britain; the second is the unprecedented wave of racist violence meted out to Muslims and non-British workers, a wave which has still not subsided; the third is that the only red line which both Labour and Tories agree will satisfy ‘the will of the people’ is ending freedom of movement.

There is a second dimension to the Brexit crisis: whatever the outcome, it is likely to further strengthen the far right. In the unlikely event of May’s deal being approved, it will be denounced as “Brexit in Name Only” because of the lengthy “implementation” phase and the so-called Irish backstop. Any “softer” form of Brexit, such as maintaining the single market and the customs union, will be denounced on the same grounds while any proposal for a referendum will, illogically, be portrayed as a “betrayal of democracy”.

Even if the outcome were to be a “no deal” departure, the economic convulsions that would cause will be blamed on the “Europeans” taking revenge for Britain winning its independence.

In every ‘Leave’ scenario, slashing immigration is the litmus test. Yet even this gross concession to British chauvinism turns out to be another opportunist lie. In fact, free movement of labour by the bosses will continue since the economy, and public services in particular, depend on it. This movement will be regulated by (effectively unlimited) quotas and work visas issued by the employer. By depriving non-UK workers of the right to welfare (a key Labour manifesto pledge), these workers will be doubly enslaved by their employers. This is a recipe for creating a scab army to push through the assault on wages and conditions which the architects of Brexit are planning.

The reality is that the weakness of the anti-racist campaigns that we have seen over the last few months is largely down to the disorienting role played by Brexit and, particularly, the Labour Party’s inability to take a clear position on it. This stems, ultimately, from its electoralism. Its primary goal is the election of a Labour government and that means suppressing the differences over Brexit in the name of “unity”. Instead of a thorough discussion in the party, the adoption of a clear position and a campaign to win the electorate, the party has relied on soundbites that both wings could interpret in their own way. That treats the electorate as an unthinking, passive mass whose support can be won by avoiding the main question. It is not only short-sighted but duplicitous.

Labour’s capitulation to the chauvinist narrative around migration, and its refusal to mount a serious opposition to the government on the only rational basis: exposing the lies and pro-capitalist programme of the whole Brexit project, warning that the disintegration of Britain’s economic links with Europe would intensify de-industrialisation, not reverse it, and be an act of immeasurable self-harm to the working class, has prevented the party from playing an active role in fighting the rise in racism, or developing a credible socialist policy.

Brexit is by its very nature a far right and reactionary project which puts the working class on the defensive. Free movement, and the rights of the 3 million EU nationals living and working in Britain and the 1.3 million UK citizens working in mainland Europe, should be defended and that is best done by not leaving the EU. Thus, a campaign against Brexit, which organised the working class on class principles, and independently from the nationalist, and pro-capitalist arguments, could lay the political and organisational independence necessary for an offensive struggle in common with workers across Europe.

Brexit means stripping rights from European migrants. Len McCluskey has been absolutely clear on this. Far from ending the exploitation of EU workers to drive down wages, a Labour or Tory Brexit would actually intensify it. Socialists who want to neuter the poison of chauvinism and xenophobia need to wage a militant defensive campaign to extend equal rights to non-EU migrants, and prevent EU migrants from losing the rights they have. Out of that defensive struggle to maintain the internationalism and unity of our class, we can prepare the ground for a combative working class able to support and press forward its own demands in the struggle for a Labour government.

Racism and nationalism are inextricable from the Brexit process that is actually happening, not the one some people would like to be happening. Stopping the growth of the far right means countering their narrative with a more powerful alternative of our own. To oppose the far right effectively, means not simply opposing Brexit, as the liberals do, but counterposing to Brexit, a socialist alternative, a perspective of struggle which presupposes the defeat of the reactionary right and fascists and the unity of European workers’ common struggles. That alternative does not start from dressing up a nationalist myth about sovereignty and chauvinism in ‘leftwing’ clothes, it starts from pointing out the real source of economic and political power in society and fighting to seize it.

So let’s unite against Tommy Robinson, but the contradictions of the pro-Brexit antifascists are theirs, not ours.

  • No to Tommy Robinson
  • Down with British chauvinism
  • Defend migrants’ rights
  • Stop Brexit