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Editorial Britain First, Boris Johnson and the resurgent right

ANTI-FASCISTS point out that we should take claims that 5,000 Britain First members have joined the Tories with a pinch of salt. Very few experts on far-right politics believe that Britain First has 5,000 members.

Like lots of Britain First stunts, such as last year’s disgusting announcement that it would be patrolling a handful of random beaches to keep out refugees, the declaration by spokeswoman Ashlea Simon has more to do with creating a climate of intimidation and fear than it has with reality.

That doesn’t mean we can write off the fascists as irrelevant. The repeated declarations of confidence in Boris Johnson from out-and-out fascists echo the celebrity status of Donald Trump among US white supremacists. They are sinister and significant. 

But — as contributors such as the Communist Party’s Tony Conway have argued in this newspaper — effective anti-racism depends on our keeping our heads.

The Johnson government isn’t fascist, and attacking Johnson or his ministers as fascist is likely to be seen as hysterical and undermine the fightback against the very real racist threat they pose.

Far-right organisations are dangerous however small their membership. When German courts ruled against banning the fascist National Democratic Party because it was too small to pose a threat to the constitutional order, Die Linke MP Ulla Jelpke pointed to a key difference between fascist organisations and those of other stripes: they do not need to threaten the state to pose a lethal risk to women, ethnic minorities, trades unionists, socialists or anyone who opposes their ideology. 

The political practise of fascism is violence. Fascists assault, lynch and murder people from “enemy” groups.

We have already seen — given the spike in assaults on Muslim women that followed Johnson’s “bank robbers and letterboxes” remarks in the summer of 2018 — that the casual endorsement of racism from “respectable” politicians encourages such violence, whether organised or not.

Johnson’s jibe gave a green light to those seeking to dehumanise Muslims, a licence for mockery, hatred and physical attack.

Britain First’s support may not make Johnson a fascist — but the perception that the British Prime Minister is “on their side” is likely to embolden fascists.

New attacks on Gypsy and Traveller communities by Home Secretary Priti Patel will play a similar role in normalising harassment and abuse.

The threat posed to minority communities requires a community response. In the US, the extraordinarily high rate of incarceration of black people and the frequency with which unarmed black men are killed by a militarised police force has long taught the left that when it comes to racism, the state is a key part of the problem. In Britain, too often the left hopes to rely on the state to fight racism. 

Reporting fascists and putting pressure on police and local authorities to prevent them organising is necessary, but cannot stand in for the active defence of targeted communities.

Nor can it substitute for organising all workers in trade unions and whole communities in campaigns around housing, schooling, health and public assets to build strong, socialised public spaces in which racism cannot take root.

Nowhere is this more important than in those constituencies newly acquired by the Conservatives, who will cynically seek to turn communities against each other as the emptiness of their promises of renewal becomes clear.

And that means the revolutionary left must not tack its anti-racism on to projects and causes of the liberal Establishment, such as alignment with an EU that is in reality both racist and anti-worker.

Recently defeated Labour MPs attacking the party’s economic plans (which were so popular the Tories took up the same public spending rhetoric) and calling for a return to the vanished “centre ground” are on a hiding to nowhere.

Ours must be a radical, socialist anti-racism emphatic in its rejection of the neoliberal capitalism that is ruining our world.

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