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Editorial: John Woodcock's ‘extremism’ probe is about policing anti-capitalism

LABOUR turncoat John Woodcock’s appointment to investigate “extremism” is ominous.

Woodcock — now Lord Walney, having been ennobled by Boris Johnson for his contribution to last year’s defeat of his own party — is careful to define his task in terms that maximise its appeal on parts of the left.

He refers to the need to challenge extremism after the Capitol Hill invasion in the US by supporters of ex-president Donald Trump, and stresses that there is “not an equivalence of threat between the far left and the far right.”

The threat of far-right terror is growing, with Home Office figures showing right-wing extremists make up a rising proportion of jailed terrorists.

Internationally, white supremacists have been responsible for massacres from Norway to New Zealand in the past decade, and Trump’s endorsement of groups like the Proud Boys or killers like Kyle Rittenhouse has raised their profile.

A government probe into far-right extremism is justifiable on the evidence. But here it is a cloak for a very different project.

We know this because of the determination to extend its focus to “progressive extremism” even when Woodcock’s own words show how lame the case for equivalence is: “There have been a number of … examples of climate change activist groups … overstepping the mark into anti-social behaviour.”

The government’s use of terror legislation to persecute peaceful direct action such as that of XR activists is the scandal here, and the suggestion that they  should be lumped alongside the Capitol Hill rioters smacks of dangerous authoritarianism.

But it’s hardly surprising from Woodcock, a “UK special envoy for countering violent extremism” who fawns on the despotic Saudi Arabian regime and who parrots propaganda from Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan whose government deploys jihadists to fight its battles in Syria, Libya and the Caucasus.

Woodcock quit Labour, claiming that its then leader Jeremy Corbyn represented a “clear risk” to national security.

This backdrop is significant, because the drive to equate the radical left with the extreme right can only be understood in the context of the serious fright Corbynism gave Britain’s rulers.

It follows years in which the liberal “centre” has decried the rise of “populism,” a catch-all term for political movements that reject the status quo.

The new US presidency of Joe Biden, who beat the left in the form of Bernie Sanders’s bid for the Democratic nomination and the right in the form of Trump, is seen as an opportunity to reassert the primacy of liberalism — wars and all.

This can only be achieved through authoritarian means — because “populism” retains its appeal as long as the social and economic system is unable to satisfy popular needs. The coronavirus crisis has demonstrated even more sharply than before how incapable it is of that.

Woodcock’s probe is one with government advice to schools not to use anti-capitalist materials, with calls from Labour for greater censorship of social and broadcast media.

The left should be clear on two points.

One, there is no equivalence between right-wing “populism,” let alone far-right extremism, and radical socialism.

While the right denounce elites, their prescriptions involve no challenge to the economic masters of the universe, instead inciting the oppressed to kick downwards at the marginalised and powerless, dividing working-class people rather than uniting them.

Two, precisely because of that, the Establishment will always side with the right-wing populist against the socialist left: the state and the monopoly media supported Johnson against Corbyn as they backed Jair Bolsonaro against Lula in Brazil, as they would have backed Trump against Sanders. 

However it’s dressed up, the purpose of Woodcock’s investigation is not to advise on tackling extremism, but to draw a line in the sand beyond which challenges to the capitalist system will not be tolerated. The far right are the excuse; the radical left is the target.

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