Brexit, the Failure of the Left and the Rise of Neo-Nazism
I had a bit of a rant about the Brexit Referendum on Song, by Toad the other day, and frankly I have been in a perpetual see-saw between incredulous outrage and head-shaking bafflement for pretty much the entirety of this debate. If you can call it a debate. At least since I realised it was for real, anyway.
I was going to say ‘serious’, but that would be far too complimentary to the level of dialogue. But serious it is. Serious as cancer. And make no mistake, in the broader sense we are talking about a social cancer with the potential to become as dangerous as anything we’ve seen in Europe for two generations.
I said in my little rant that the arguments behind Brexit are just plain stupid, and they are. I have heard left wing criticisms of the EU, and I agree with them, but the idea that this debate is taking place on those terms is so ridiculous as to barely merit addressing, and the refusal to acknowledge the social and political impact of emboldening and legitimising the forces pushing us to Brexit is wilfully naive to the point of irresponsibility.
The arguments may be stupid, but even though I think of myself as an intelligent person that doesn’t mean I haven’t made some very dumb decisions in my time. Clever people do dumb things all the time, and it’s dangerous and deliberately blinkered to dismiss this popular a movement as just stupidity in action, without ever giving way to a bit of sincere self-examination.
The first thing which gave me really serious pause for thought was the chart below, taken from this analysis in the FT about who is voting which way and why.
Now, my initial reaction as a middle class, internationalist lefty was probably much the same as many of ‘my sort’: ‘See, we young(ish), well-educated lefties are right – look at those old Daily Mail-reading paranoid racists on the other side!’
This isn’t totally wrong, to be fair. But it is smug, classist and declines to address what I think is the most glaring demonstration of the failure of the modern left I have seen in my lifetime.
It started during the general election, when the Lib Dems collapsed, and instead of fleeing to Labour, a huge proportion of those voters leapt into the arms of UKIP. It surprised almost everyone, myself included.
And look at the chart above again, and in particular at the divide between social classes: A and B overwhelmingly against leaving, C2, D and E overwhelmingly in favour. That is a hugely important fact, in my view, and something we should as a moral imperative force ourselves to address.
Look at what dominates the mood amongst the leave movement, the xenophobia and the rage, and then look at the people into whose arms we will be driven if we vote out: Farage, Nick Griffin, and the very worst of the Tory party; IDS, Gove and Boris Johnson. It seems inconceivable that people of low-income in the UK could possibly vote with this movement.
Particularly the Tories – Gove, IDS and Boris – have made it patently clear the utter contempt and often outright loathing with which they view the poor and the otherwise disadvantaged. The distaste is visceral, and yet these are the very people who are standing side by side with them in this debate. But if you listen to the interviews it is not out of love for the characters themselves.
Whilst it is patently obvious to anyone that workers’ protection, the NHS, state education, pensions, disability benefits, public housing availability and the BBC are going to be like a wounded antelope being dismembered by a pack of cackling hyenas in the immediate aftermath of an exit vote, we are looking at this from the wrong perspective.
The British poor have been under pretty much unrelenting assault for years. They have been demonised in political discourse, their access to education has been privatised away and what remains has been underfunded, the NHS is being deliberately hobbled so that it loses its support and can be sold off, community support and infrastructure have been underfunded to the point of extinction, and not only have the poor been consistently both the chief victims of this systematic assault, they have also been overwhelmingly blamed for its consequences as well.
Now you can’t blame this entirely on the left. The UK media is overwhelmingly in pro-Brexit, pro-Tory hands, meaning reasoned left wing arguments are stifled before they even reach the public.
New Labour were fairly culpable too, but with nothing like the gleefully rapacious excess of the Tories. The economy collapsed, and the people who were most manifestly blameless in the crisis bore the entire brunt of it, saw the perpetrators rewarded, and then were themselves blamed for the mess that resulted.
This has all happened while we have been in the EU, and we can talk about protection for public services and social mobility and social safety nets being safer from within the EU, but that must look like utter bollocks if your housing support has been gutted and local council funding slashed to fund a nice fat bonus for RBS management.
The genius of the right, of course, has been the relentless propaganda blaming this on immigration. And the failure of the left has been to take the vitriolic blame game at face value, let themselves be misdirected by the racism and hatred, and refuse to examine the entirely legitimate sources of anger which underlie them. There is a really good article by John Harris in the Guardian about this at the moment, but I’ve rarely seen it discussed anywhere else.
If you are working in slave labour conditions in an Amazon warehouse with no access to holiday pay, sick pay or even guaranteed hours, your piss breaks timed and a public announcement of your inadequacy every time you pause for breath, all because your employment contract has been outsourced and is therefore outside the law, it seems a bit rich to prattle on about the protection offered by EU labour rules.
Frustrated people feel forced to accept these Victorian conditions because ‘if they don’t there are 500 Poles who will’. This is garbage, of course. Sure, Poles might accept these conditions, but so would many unemployed Brits, so stopping immigration will have next to no effect on your working conditions.
This situation is not allowed to exist because immigrants will tolerate worse conditions, but because the regulations making these inhumane conditions illegal have been destroyed. The racism may be misguided, but the anger is real, it is legitimate, and it must be addressed.
People are forced to work in this environment, and can see clearly that things will only get worse as they get older and sicker, and can also tell that their kids have had all the avenues out of this existence blocked off due to the defunding of the NHS and public education.
Talk of the protections provided by the EU must sound absolutely deluded to people living this life, but the left has failed to address this. We point at the Human Rights Act and the social democracy of European nations and refuse to acknowledge that we have allowed these principles to disintegrate in the UK and that they have become almost meaningless to the very people they are supposed to help.
This should be the job of the left wing, but I don’t think left wing politics really represents the British working class at the moment, and on a broad level, I have a suggestion as to why this might be.
The left wing in the UK is a labour movement, based around manufacturing and manual labour which is largely gone now, and the left is struggling to adjust to modern concepts of work, poverty, and social cohesion. The working class is simply not a labouring class anymore, and the Labour Party are not addressing disenfranchised working class anger as directly as UKIP.
When the Tottenham riots happened a few years ago there was a prissy middle class outcry of ‘this isn’t about politics, this is about vandalism and thievery’. This was insulting, complacent, and stupid. This was the only avenue left to express frustration and anger at political disenfranchisement and social abandonment. The ladders had been pulled up, and there was no other way to express that rage or to protest that gross unfairness.
Even Nigel Farage seems to acknowledge this, and he is undeniably right when he says below that if you strip people of all control of their lives, all sense of self-worth and self-determination, you will get violence. It may seem incredible coming from someone who relies on pig-ignorant rabble rousing to achieve his own ends, particularly when the very obvious recent result of this has been the taking of a life of a compassionate young MP, but what he says still stands as true.
As in the build up to the major wars of the Twentieth century, this kind of social unrest is caused by increasing consolidation of wealth and power in the hands of very, very few people, and the use of scapegoating as a distraction. In the early 1900s this was more the business of monarchs and the rest of the aristocracy, whereas now it is more the plutocrats of the capitalist hegemony, but the result is the same: unaccountable, un-removable gobblers of wealth rolling in truffles and champagne and deriding those outside their walls as undeserving sub-humans. Cockroaches, I think Katie Hopkins called them.
Dehumanise, persecute, humiliate, exploit and victimise so many people to such an extent and basically you will generate rage. Throw in a depression, such as the one we are currently experiencing and the one which decimated the world during the thirties, and you effectively dousing some very dry timber in gasoline and waiting for the first spark.
There is a reason Hitler was able to galvanise the German population to the extent that he was during the thirties, and it isn’t because Germans are all a bunch of closet nazis. Or at least, no more than the rest of us anyway.
Germany was suffering from the Great Depression the same as the rest of us, but it was made significantly worse by the post-WWI settlement, which hobbled their economy still further. He was able to direct that rage both towards the Jews, but equally significantly, outwards against the rest of the world, wind it up to a fever pitch and turn it loose.
He was basically a populist. His arguments didn’t have to make sense, but like Trump, like Boris and like Farage, they had to resonate with people’s sense of anger, of impotence and of humiliation and turn it into a barely-controlled wave of outward-facing rage that he could ride into power.
And look at the English football hooligans. Listen to the constant ‘well at least we’ll be able to stop them coming over here’ we hear in interviews, listen to the anger directed towards the EU, towards the torrent of Middle Eastern refugees which we ourselves created, towards ‘the establishment’. This anger and hatred and withdrawal into parochialism and a bizarre sense of British exceptionalism… these are the roots of neo-nazism, of manifest destiny, of mutual masturbation over the glory of the Fatherland, or the golden days of Albion, if you want to anglicise it.
I don’t for a second think that Farage, IDS, Gove or Boris Johnson are neo-nazis, but I do believe that they are cynical and self-serving enough to encourage ideologies dangerously close to it, if it looks like it will bring them the power they crave.
The murder of Jo Cox was an act of white supremacist, neo-nazi domestic terrorism, but blaming that one crazy guy is as dangerous as it is stupid. He is not isolated, his acts were inevitable. Farage’s ‘Breaking Point’ poster is neo-nazi propaganda in all but name, and we are not the only ones.
The same trend in the US is allowing Trump to describe a judge from Indiana as Mexican and to actually, seriously propose building a wall between the US and Mexico and banning Muslims from entering the United States. And why is he successful, because Southern Americans are stupid and racist? Or because he is latching onto their frustration and their anger at the movement of American manufacturing overseas, at the collapse of blue collar American economy and pointing it in a direction which suits his own ends?
Australia already has actual offshore concentration camps for captured illegal immigrants. Austria too narrowly avoided electing an openly neo-nazi Prime Minister recently. Hollande will not last in France, and it is not at all unlikely that Merkel is done for in Germany too, and who will replace them? I shudder to think.
ISIS too represent much the same thing – not a rational response to anything, but a vehicle for the fury generated by poverty, disenfranchisement and helplessness. But if racism and intolerance in Europe and the US go much further, never mind our passive tolerance of the genocides we perpetrate in the Middle East, it will not just be ISIS who is enraged but the entire civilised Muslim world, and that is fucking dangerous.
And all this is encouraged, of course, because whilst the poor direct their anger towards foreigners and inwardly amongst themselves, the rich are profiteering from arms, selling off public infrastructure, privatising education and healthcare and generally making out like bandits. It is not even exploitation anymore, it is rapacious, scorched-earth looting.
In Western Europe the only thing that stopped this was the Second World War. So many working class people died in that war that when they came home they were no longer prepared to be second class citizens anymore, so they unionised, they empowered themselves with education and they fought for representation and the right to participate.
This great modern achievement, the social-democratic welfare state, has been steadily chipped away at since, and the cracks are so big now that the dam feels like it is breaking.
And I am scared. Like Chris Brosnahan, I don’t think the violence stops here. So when Jo Cox is shot and stabbed to death and Farage and Johnson piss out their oily platitudes about it being a senseless waste, and a terrible tragedy…. NO.
Fuck off, you do not get to play that card. YOU caused this. You fucked over the people of this country, you pointed and laughed at them, you destroyed their ability to live a life of dignity and work, and now that you have driven them to the point of desperation you are stoking their anger as a means of furthering your own political careers, and you have no fucking idea how to control what you are starting.
This has the capacity to all get so very much uglier than it already is, and yes, I am fucking shit-scared.More: brexit, eu, neo-nazism, referendum