Tommy Robinson, English nationalism and Brexit

Photograph: Steve Eason

Three things strike you when looking at videos and photos of the neo-fascist demonstration on June 9th calling for the release from prison of the Islamophobic criminal Tommy Robinson writes Andy Stowe.

The first is the numbers who turned out. 10 000 is the most frequent shared estimate. This was a massive display of racists supporting Robinson. Anyone interested in the details of why he’s in prison can find more here.

The second is the international dimension to the event. The most prominent speaker was Geert Wilders who told the crowd:

“Tommy Robinson is the greatest freedom fighter of Britain today. Tommy Robinson is a freedom fighter. He says what no-one dares to say. ” A message of support was also received from Steve Bannon and it seems there were protests outside a number of British embassies and consulates.

The third is the massive number of England flags and union jacks. It was more than just a demonstration to have a racist criminal released. It was a display of neo-fascist English nationalism which seems to mark the emergence of a new coalition. This  includes Ukip MEP Gerard Batten who appears to have been inside the neo-fascist speakers’ areas; a loose organisation of football hooligans called the Football Lads’ Alliance and former members of the English Defence League. This new coalition is willing to use violence on the streets and some of them were seen  attacking the police.

Stand Up To Racism (SUTR) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) mobilised about 300 people against them. Both these groups are front organisations of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and receive their political direction from its leadership. They are sometimes able to get Diane Abbott or Jeremy Corbyn to speak at their events but they have no relationship with Labour Party members and many on the left are unwilling to work with them because of their leaderships’ role in dealing with an allegation of sexual assault. Whatever one’s political judgement on that view, it’s a fact which won’t go away.

Immediately after the Brexit referendum Socialist Resistance concluded that “The referendum has legitimised racism and xenophobia as never before.” The collapse of Ukip following that result provided a huge number of new votes for the Tories and cleared the path for the re-emergence of street-fighting neo-fascists in England. It’s part of the global rise of far right nationalist political formations in which we can include, in a list which is by no means exhaustive, Trump, Erdogan in Turkey, Duterte in the Philippines, Salvini in Italy, Hofer in Austria and Orbán in Hungary.

Brexit has re-enegerised British neo-fascism. The thousands of men, and people who were there say it was an almost exclusively male demonstration, now have the political confidence to occupy central London for the day. Again, people who saw them say that the neo-fascists appeared to come from the belt of predominantly white towns and counties that ring London. For the racists London is not just the political centre of England, its multi-ethnic communities, who understood what it would mean, voted overwhelmingly against their Brexit project.   

An ugly truth that the British left often refuses to acknowledge is that a lot of the country’s working class and lower middle class is racist. In 2018 anti-Muslim bigotry is the main form it takes, a world view which is reinforced by Brexit supporting papers like the Daily Mail and the Sun, the house journals of mainstream British racism. These elements are now being mixed up with Steve Bannon’s project of creating an intellectually coherent new neo-fascist international current, hence his appearance at the Front National’s recent conference and his message to the mob yesterday.

British society is starkly divided over Brexit. Most Labour supporters are against it and most Tories back it. The further right in the political spectrum you go, the more violently pro-Brexit people are. And the further right you go the more violently anti-immigrant people are, literally and metaphorically.

What we saw on the streets of London was the violent face of English nationalist racism and, while 10 0000 is 10 000 too many, they are massively outnumbered by 500 0000 Labour Party members and 6.5 million trade unionists. We can sweep them from the streets and defeat them politically.

If the neo-fascists continue to organise large demonstrations the labour movement cannot continue to sub-contract dealing with them to a small Marxist propaganda party. We need to use our roots in our communities and our organisations to confront them with overwhelming numbers. Labour must start to take its voters’ enemies seriously and reclaim our streets from them and with his visit to London on July 13th Trump is giving us a great opportunity to do just that.

6 Comments

  1. Much as I despise the SWP for their handling of rape allegations, we can’t afford to split anti-fascist forces in the face of the largest fascist mobilisation we have seen since the 1970s. They are the immediate danger to the labour movement, the left, Muslims, women, and the LGBT community. We don’t want to make the same mistake as the Stalinists in the 1930s with their crazy and suicidal ‘social fascist’ dogma.

  2. I agree with most of this. I would just point out that modern racism in Britain has often been state racism (from parts of the police, judiciary, Home Office, some MPs) and has also been promoted by much of the media, going back to Northcliffe’s Daily Mail in the 30s; and none of these institutions have been run by mainly working class or lower middle class people. The upper echelons have had their fair share of racism too. But yes there has to be a sea change in the way the labour movement, Labour Party, far left and local communities approach this.

  3. I would make just a few points. This eas not the biggest fascist gathering since the 1970s, ots probably the biggrst fascist outdoor mobilisation in British history far bigger then anything the nf, the bnp or the edl achieved, Mosely in the 1930s only ever achieved similar mobilisations at indoor venues such as Olympia. Secondly , in your list of right nationalist political formations, you, like much pf the british left, ignore the key role of Putins russia in mobilising and supporting the rise of the international far right. Russia has not only promoted nationalist partirs but has promoted via its platforms RT and Sputnikmattempts by the tar right to infiltrate and controlmsections of the left by promoting “red_brown’alliances, a reading of the work of Alexander Reid _Ross and others on this subject is advised, thirfly, you cannot simultaneouly , correctly, say that there is a strong strain of racism in the english working clasd and then appear to say that 6.5m trade unionists can automatically be mobilised to defeat the rise of the new far right. , the membership of the trade unions has never been totally immune from racism even at times of hrightened clasd conciousness so its hard to imagine that at a time of falling trade union membership, a sharp decline in strike actions and a decline in a political activity generally beyondvthe labour party, ttaresvunionists can automatically be wheeled out to fight fadcism as was the case in the 1970s.. the key task at the moment should be fpr the lrft of the labour party, particularly in aread where it does have organic links to the trafe union movement to mobilise its mass membergip it is an urgent necesdity, the 10000racists and fascists doesnt take into acvountvthev500.000 who signed the petitionnin support pf robinson online

  4. Britain is probably the country in the EU where fascism is least of a problem, notwithstanding the dangers posed by recent developments. The EU has been part of the mix that has helped create the rise of the far right in Europe and the surrender of huge swathes of the left to illusions in a ” social Europe” has only helped enlarge the vacuum which they are filling. At one time all fragments of the USFI in Britain were strongly opposed to the EU, and I recall one leading contributor to what’s now Socialist Resistance giving me an excellent explanation of how important it was to campaign against the Maastricht Treaty. Sad political retreat to a position worse than many social democrats. If the left want to give a huge boost to the far right in Britain, then let’s be seen to be part of Blair and Cameron’s attempt to derail Brexit on behalf of the COB. By the way it’s absolutely clear that the actual practice of the pro EU Macron administration in France is just as anti immigrant as the rhetoric of the Front National, just as the Windrush scandal didn’t develop as a result of Brexit but while pro remain Theresa May was Home Secretary and well before.

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