Actually, it is racist
One conclusion being drawn from Labour’s defeat is that the party under Corbyn was insufficiently concerned about migration, English nationalism and the concerns of the “majority of the working class” writes Andy Stowe. Even Rebecca Long-Bailey, seen as the most left of the potential leadership candidates, is falling into the trap.
Well to Long-Bailey’s right, Pat McFadden, Labour MP for Wolverhampton South East, next door to Enoch Powell’s old seat of Wolverhampton South West, argues that “Labour needs to rediscover its patriotic instincts”. He feels that the internationalism that defines Corbyn makes him insufficiently patriotic.
McFadden’s basic argument is that Labour can only win elections by persuading voters that all its senior figures devotedly watch Elizabeth Windsor’s Christmas speech while standing to attention in their living rooms. Like Kipling and Thatcher, patriots such as McFadden believe that “British power and influence – both hard and soft – is a force for good in the world.” Readers of this site don’t need to be reminded of the countless dead in Afghanistan, Iraq, Aden, Kenya, Malaya, India, so we won’t dwell on McFadden’s historical illiteracy about the white man’s burden.
The Morning Star, paper of the Communist Party of Britain is pushing a similar view: “From Brexit, at the most important level, to backing England in the World Cup, at the most trivial, large sections of the left are abandoning their posts at the first sign of trouble…”. This is an echo of the demand made on immigrants to support the English cricket team by the Tory cabinet minister Norman Tebbit.
Even sites claiming to offer a “Marxist and feminist view of economy, social life, politics and cities” argue, in a staggeringly illogical sentence: “the vote was not based in xenophobia and racism as such, but rather an opposition to further net immigration because of its perceived impacts on access to jobs, public services and housing.”
Long-Bailey launching her leadership bid writes: “Britain has a long history of patriotism rooted in working life, built on unity and pride in the common interests and shared life of everyone.” As the Brexit referendum and the Tory election victory clearly demonstrated, that simply is not true. In England in 2020 “patriotism” simply means little English nationalism and voting to keep people poor, including yourself, because you think foreigners are a problem.
The drunk on the bus
Another theme echoed by the anti-Corbyn Labour faction and its supporters in the commentariat is the ludicrous accusation of large-scale antisemitism. Jonathan Goldstein’s article in the Sunday Times is typical of innumerable others when he claims with no evidence whatsover: “large numbers of the influx of far-left members have been carriers of a particular variant of anti-semitism deep in their ideological and political approach”.
It’s still a bit too early to make clear judgments on the leadership contest. A number of figures from the shadow cabinet are being mentioned as potential challengers, but if the left is confused the right is absolutely desperate. Jess Phillips, a politician with no discernible principles other than a deep hatred of Jeremy Corbyn, is being puffed up as a credible Labour leader across the right-wing press.
Though even Siobhain McDonagh could only say of her that she’s a “woman who isn’t frightened to reach out to people who don’t agree with her. And someone who always speaks her mind.” You could say exactly the same about the drunk on the bus who’s trying to have an argument with you.
At this very moment a clutch of people in right wing think tanks and the Progress office are pulling together a policy platform for Philips or whoever emerges as the right’s contender. Its outlines are already taking shape.
They will look for a way to drive out the people who joined because of Corbyn. One of the ways of doing that will be a doubling down on spurious claims of antisemitism, almost certainly linked to support for the people of Palestine. That’s why Goldstein and McFadden both raised the theme in articles published within hours of each other in the anti-Corbyn press.
Former Blair consigliere Andrew Adonis goes further and says “Corbyn and Corbynism have to be completely eradicated if Labour is to become an electable democratic socialist party”. A century after the murder of Rosa Luxemburg by the Blairites of the time and the violence of his language suggests he thinks shooting Corbynistas, burning their bodies and dumping them in canals is a good idea. Though he’ll probably says it’s just a figure of speech just like Phillips did when she talked about stabbing Corbyn. No prominent Corbyn supporter has ever used such extreme, violent language when talking about their political opponents in Labour
The main point of the right’s programme will be to start appealing to anti-migrant sentiment among the most reactionary parts of the white English working class. We’ll be told that their concerns are legitimate expressions of concern about NHS waiting lists and pressure on public services and that they aren’t racist for saying they want to stop immigration.
It’s not permissible to cede any ground on these arguments. Anti-migrant views are the hallmark of racism all across Europe. They are now always expressed in terms of shortages of housing, hospital places etc. Yielding to this way of thinking is one result of not understanding what political parties are for. Yes, they exist to win elections, but they also exist to change the way people think about things. A Labour Party that doesn’t frontally attack these racist ideas is one that will get dragged along behind them. Long-Bailey, or any future leader, who tries to wrap themselves in the union jack will always be running behind the Tories when it comes to jingoistic nationalism. It’s a game socialists mustn’t play, not just because it can’t be won, but because it’s fundamentally anti-working class.
Andy Stowe is right to reject ‘progressive patriotism’ but wrong to take a one sentence quote out of context to rubbish Jamie Gough’s marxist argument. This is what Gough (not named by Stowe) says:
‘I wish to argue …that the working class Brexit vote was a logical coping strategy in the circumstances, that is, given the political economy of Britain over the last forty years and its present configuration. Correspondingly, the vote was not based in xenophobia and racism as such, but rather an opposition to further net immigration because of its perceived impacts on access to jobs, public services and housing.’
‘The view that immigration is the problem rather than neoliberal capitalism is, in Marxist terms, based on ‘appearance’ rather than ‘essence’. However, in the Marxist approach ‘appearance’ is not mere illusion or mystification, but is rather rooted in real materially-based social relations.’
‘Explaining popular consciousness requires going beyond a description of dominant ideologies; analysis of discourses in themselves cannot explain their hold on people’s imagination. Rather, we need to see them as part of praxis, the unity of material practice and consciousness.’
Stowe says that ‘A Labour Party that doesn’t frontally attack these racist ideas is one that will get dragged along behind them.’ But this is to fall into the same trap as the social democrats he criticises, separating out racist ideas from the material circumstances of people’s lives that give purchase to them. In contrast, Gough’s conclusion is that
‘the hostility of most working class people to immigration is not primarily based on ideology or discourse. It has been adopted as a survival strategy because socialist militancy, social democratic reforms, and individual aspiration and enterprise have failed to deliver the goods, whereas on the surface of things restriction of immigration promises to deliver.
There is no chance now that working class people will be shifted from this view unless they become convinced that a different political economic strategy is feasible.
A long period of struggle around concrete material issues can then make a socialist approach, of solidarity and collective good across national and ethnic divisions, hegemonic in the Working Class.’