By Rida Vaquas
The rise of the far right across the globe unveils the critical challenge facing the Left: how do we break out of our parochialism?
The Free Tommy Robinson demonstration on Saturday 14th July demonstrated the web of links the British far right have to their counterpart movements in other nations, speakers included Geert Wilders from the Netherlands, and Swedish far right politician Kent Ekeroth. Transnational financial assistance is becoming increasingly more common, the US far right think tank Middle East Forum has played a role in funding Tommy Robinson’s legal case, as well as the demonstrations.
These links are not limited to street movements, but amongst far right politicians who are increasingly in positions of power across the E.U. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister who fenced off all of Hungary’s borders with Serbia and Croatia, now finds an ally in Matteo Silvini, the Italian interior minister who blocked migrant rescue ships from arriving in Italy’s ports. At a governmental level and on the streets, the far right is mobilising and garnering success at an international level.
This bears stark dangers for socialists. International protest movements have mainly collapsed since 2010 coupled with a weakened sense of international links. For many coming into socialist politics today, the internationally coordinated anti-war protests in 2003 are distant, if present in their consciousness at all. The wave of student occupations in 2009 sparked by the Gaza massacre, calling for universities to divest from arms companies, has not witnessed a continuation of its legacy in student activism today, even following the Israeli attacks on protesters earlier this year. Whilst there is awareness and interest in other nations’ leftist politics – the rise of Jeremy Corbyn being eagerly observed by socialists in Europe as well as in the USA – it often fails to materialise into long-term and sustained coordination. There is knowledge that that the institutions which safeguard and further the interests of capitalism are properly international: the EU, the World Trade Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, yet there is a complete deficit in international responses.
The problem can be summarised as this: the far right are nationalist in theory, but international in practice, whereas the left are internationalist in theory, but hopelessly national in practice.
Perhaps there is a political question of why internationalist political practice matters. This may be best answered by the example that every activist will be familiar with: the picture in solidarity with a struggle happening elsewhere. Some may be dismissive of it, that there is no practical point to a group of students in London posting a picture of themselves standing in solidarity with students at an occupied university in Warsaw. But we know it has a purpose – it demonstrates common interests between people across borders, and it allows us to imagine a more expansive community of people in struggle. To pay attention to what happens elsewhere is not simply a matter of keeping informed, it is a matter of claiming a stake in and recognising the existence of a political project that goes beyond your own borders.
The solidarity picture is undoubtedly limited. It is sporadic and reactive, recognising events as they take place, rather than calling them into being. International coordination requires sustained communication over a long period, it requires working together beyond critical moments when it all kicks off.
There are important distinctions between the transnational links of the far right and the Left, broadly defined. The base of the far right is much more diffuse, and links are built between political and financial leaders. In the Left, for international coordination to be both successful and enduring, it must have deeper roots than the top layers of the movement. We need to be able to think internationally at a branch level, our conception of ourselves as part of a wider project should be represented in the real ties we have to activists in other countries. In order to underpin this work, we need to be encouraging people to learn languages (not just European ones!) and use their existing language skills in building up transnational networks.
In sketching out the international possibilities we have, the key requirement cannot be elided: organisation. Without organisation, there is nothing to sustain links made from one protest movement to another, we are not building international institutions so much as international moments. The Labour Party, to the extent it has this function at all, has a lot to learn quickly in terms of organising on the streets. (Certainly if the Labour Party was capable of mobilising for anti-fascist activity, the Free Tommy Robinson demonstration would be significantly more outnumbered than it actually was).
Our guiding principle must be: internationalism is by deed, not word. It will be long and hard work – but the only way any socialist project worthy of the name can succeed.
Let us know what you think? Write a reply? Email email@example.com
You are the first person to claim that we outnumbered the Robinson demonstration “Certainly if the Labour Party was capable of mobilising for anti-fascist activity, the Free Tommy Robinson demonstration would be significantly more outnumbered than it actually was”
But although numbers are very important, tactics, self confidence and image are equally so. Our demonstration although numerically strong and maybe even stronger that the right only marched a few hundred yards surrounded by police into a police kettle where again we were surrounded by police and protected by them until we broke up and left before the Robinson meeting had ended.
The right ruled the streets They roamed at will. They blocked a bus driven by a Muslim woman. They attacked the RMT contingent and glassed Steve Hedley, they continually tried to attack the rear of our meeting and picked off individuals after the demonstration. They went around after their meeting chanting “Our Streets”, “Wheres Antifa ? ” and “Where the lefties ?” in the spot we held our meeting.
They were full of confidence. Again, they had seen us off even though we had larger numbers than before and possibly outnumbered them. In the face of this confidence and these attacks we did nothing except hide behind the police and then scuttle off home after talking to each other about standing up to the fascists but not actually doing anything about it.. No heckling, no lining the streets of their march, no attempt to defend ourselves and no attempt to defend the bus driver or anyone else, as we were not there. We did not have the confidence to confront them irrespective of numbers. That simply boosts the right who will feel even more confident as they feel on a roll that we seem incapable of denting.
Equally after all the hype of signatures from the great and good, trade union leaders, MPs Labour party notables, Muslim leaders etc the actual turnout from these groups was abysmal. With notable exceptions. RMT turned out the largest contingent with 40 members from an 80,000 membership, larger unions even fewer, other unions no bettter This after all the calls to stand up to fascism. Similarlty the Labour Party, Calls aplenty, speeches and signing letter to the Guardian seems to be the limit of its militancy and no better than the days before Momentum. Most branches never even bothered to leaftet for the demonstration or arrange for members to attend. No visiting mosques, colleges workplaces etc. At most probably passed a miltant resolution which made them feel as though that was enough particulalry after the fun day on the anti Trump demo the day before when they could write funny slogans and confront no one .
Confronting the fascists on the streets is not macho posturing Its crucual to deflating the fascists and building a socialst working class confidence. They claim to represent the working class (They mean manual) The left equally claims to represent the class but does not seem to have the same influence in the manual working class who, in many cases feel that the left reflects the middle classes more than them. We need to change that image not just in doing things for the working class as polticians usually claim to do in their paternalistic way but to empower workers to do it for themselves. That means organising workers to defend themselves from fascists and the right extremists, to have the confidence and numbers to confront them and equally important to organise to defend council estates from both Tory and Labour councils who want to gentrify them out of their areas. Agauna few notable exceptions. For some reason I have seen Walton Liverpool Labour Party banner on more demonstrations throgh twitter than I have seen any London banners in reality.
I remember Corbyn saying we will not just support strikes etc but we will be next to you on the picket line. I am still waiting to see that reflected in the real world and turning out in numbers on the streets in an organised way to stand up to the fascists is a good way of doing it. We need numbers, we need banners, we need organisation, we need confidence and we need the politics to mobilise and defend our class not just pass resolutions. From the attendance at the weekend demonstrations, we give the impression we are still more militant liberals than socialists.