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Simplistic politics and online ‘cancel culture’ drive working-class people away from the left

Just because the right says it is anti-woke, that doesn’t mean the left must be pro-woke. To defeat bigotry, we need vigorous debate, collectivism and patient engagement, not witch-hunts, says KRISTINA HARRISON

ALMOST three weeks ago the actor Laurence Fox from the TV series Lewis appeared on Question Time.  

Both in that programme and subsequently, he’s made angry pronouncements on the subject of racism and woke politics.  

He’s done it with the kind of boundless, but groundless self-confidence of the average racist bore down the pub, his ignorance only being matched by the smug and racist assumptions that underpin it.  

Most notably he was forced to apologise after saying that the inclusion of a Sikh soldier in Sam Mendes’s WWI film 1917, was “incongruous” and “distracting.”  

He further claimed that “there’s something institutionally racist about forcing diversity on people in that way.”  

In reality tens of thousands of Sikh soldiers served on the Western Front in WWI, but prejudice is not known for its keen awareness of historical details.   

In any event his outbursts have struck a chord with the right-wing press and a growing hard-right constituency in this country who hate woke politics at least in part because it is associated with the left and because it declares itself against bigotry.  

The Metro newspaper says that Fox “has transformed himself into an anti-woke poster boy over the past few weeks.”  

He has certainly given heart to racists and tickled the appetite of much of the organised right to aggressively press their advantage after Boris Johnson’s thumping election victory and go on the offensive against the left.  

Fox has laughably painted himself as the real victim in all this, despite his genuinely privileged, Harrow-educated background.  

He minimises and denies racism but insists he himself is a victim of an anti-white racism coming from the woke left, including, absurdly, from black people such as the woman Fox berated on Question Time.  

This is nonsense and no more than an excuse for bigoted ignorance. We should be quite clear about that. 

Neither should we be surprised that some in the Establishment, including parts of the right-wing press, would like to be able to rehabilitate further elements of racism and other divisive, anti-working class ideas back into the mainstream of politics by dressing it up as anti-woke.  

They understand that there is a widespread disdain for woke politics that goes way beyond racists and Tory voters and includes very many working people who are just sick of woke’s elitist, abusive, holier-than-thou cancel culture.  

Clearly some of the Establishment see woke politics as a weak point in the left’s armour and, sadly, they are not wrong. They want to exploit this situation and we must not allow them to do so.  

In the first instance we have to recognise when the right are simply trying to advance racism and other bigotry by cloaking it in anti-woke clothes.  

We must be clear in calling out Establishment bigotry for what it is and opposing it all day, every day.  

However, it is simply not good enough to take the position that because the right say they are anti-woke politics, that we must be pro-woke.

There is a degree of popular working-class backlash against woke, which in the case of the new women’s movement in Britain is not at all fundamentally about bigotry but about the gross injustices being done to women in the name of woke identity politics.  

Further, a section of the Leave-voting working-class heartlands responded at least in part to the increasingly woke characterisation and in many cases cancellation of them as gammon, racists and idiots. 

They unsurprisingly feel driven away from the left, not only because of the betrayal of the promise to respect the EU referendum result but also because of the sneering abuse directed towards them from many middle-class woke lefties.  

If we want to ensure that workers “lending their vote” to the Tories does not become a more permanent arrangement and if we do not want to drive potentially hundreds of thousands of working-class women into the arms of the Tories, then part of our task should be to make clear that while first and foremost we should oppose all attempts to normalise racism and other forms of bigotry under the cover of anti-woke, that woke politics in Britain today is at best a barrier to defeating the right and at its worst — seen through the lens of gender identity politics — it is absolutely riddled with staggering sexism and misogyny, it is dangerously anti-democratic, anti-materialist and anti-working class in practice.  

The materialist left and the feminist left are right to reject woke because only a class-based socialist politics can effectively bring people together to fight oppression, exploitation and the right. 

There is a difference between the interests, motives and response of the Establishment to woke politics and the interests, motives and responses of Leave-voting working-class people in the former Labour heartlands or of a women’s movement sickened by the abuse of themselves and their basic rights at the hands of woke identity politics. 

To fail to recognise that and indeed to conflate them all as one regressive bloc against which woke politics itself must be defended is to ghettoise the left, write off vast swathes of working-class people and to repeat the error of moving away from class politics by embracing elitist cancel culture.  

Owen Jones has tweeted that “an anti-woke counter revolution is now in full swing” but shows no sign of understanding that he is conflating right-wing bigotry with, in some cases, progressive opposition to woke, that wokeism is itself one of the weak links which has both invited the Establishment assault along this axis and helped foster divisions among the working-class forces capable of resisting it.

The materialist and feminist left are anti-woke because we’re for a more effective way of fighting bigotry, oppression and exploitation using the methods of class politics, democracy, vigorous debate, collectivism, patient and respectful two-way engagement and agitation, working together despite sharp disagreements to build grassroots campaigns and trade union organisation, to take action together against the common enemy, because we recognise our common interests and because we have a basic respect for our brothers and sisters despite those sometimes large and painful differences.

Woke politics is the opposite. It is elitist and super-moralising, cancelling working-class people with ease, in simplistic black-and-white terms, despite many having long histories of being against prejudice, including many fine socialists, feminists, human rights activists and women’s sector workers.  

Woke culture elevates, not debate and politics but moral absolutism, authoritarianism and hysteria, the tools of the witch-hunter.

Instead of patient engagement, it tries to pour shame on dissenting individuals who do not rapidly conform, to ostracise and sometimes dehumanise them, to use the boss to discipline or sack them.  

The woke left is actively no-platforming feminists and other opponents of fascism. It is trying to prevent the independent speech and meetings of women, to intimidate, bully and threaten attendees and supporters. 

It is riddled with sexist and misogynist threats, entitlements and assumptions. It is an extremely divisive form of middle-class moralism and ultra-liberalism.

The left must address this divisive and intolerant culture and its middle-class/neoliberal roots. It must turn decisively back towards its materialist and working-class origins, back towards collectivity and solidarity with other workers and all of the oppressed, not towards more hyper-individualism and hyper-moralism, not towards ever more competitive and hierarchical “oppression-olympics” and with an ever greater rejection of material reality. 

It is the left’s failure thus far to address these issues, including its now relative weak-rootedness in important sections of the working class, which has allowed this widely despised cancel culture to thrive.

With its sneering class or educational snobbery, it’s unjust and often vile assumptions about working-class women it actually undermines the left’s vitally important messages about oppression, division and unity.  

One thing which is so very divisive in our movement, for example, is the presumption of anti-trans hatred made against anyone, no matter their political record or character, no matter any other evidence to the contrary or even if they, like me, are proudly trans themselves.  

If they disagree that gender identity should overrule biological sex or contend that what are being claimed as rights by many trans people unfairly remove rights and autonomy from women, then they are assumed to be bigots as if there could never be any other explanation than hate for asserting that binary sex is real and highly significant to billions of human beings or for recognising and asserting that it’s unjust that the rights claimed by most members of one group threaten to take away rights and autonomy from another group.  

To assume hatred as the only explanation for that is against natural justice, is disingenuous and is corrosive to working-class solidarity.

Transphobia is a real and life-crushing prejudice for many trans people. We have a long way to go to defeat it, but too many activists are crying wolf so repeatedly and with such hyperbole and misrepresentation that it would raise even Orwell’s eyebrows.  

Transphobia is a word now so tragically and dangerously cheapened that it is steadily losing its power. 

For much of the time in Britain today it simply means disagreeing with identity politics or believing biological sex is dimorphic, real and significant. 

It is both a travesty and a tragedy which is actively undermining the real fight against anti-trans hatred, against the disadvantage and discrimination faced by many trans brothers and sisters.

The detachment from the material reality of sex inevitably finds its corresponding equivalent in a detachment from political reality. 

Facts become irrelevant, only feelings matter, just never the feelings of anyone else, especially women.

It is precisely because woke cancel culture has (rightly in all too many cases) become so widely despised, as the epitome of an obnoxious, holier-than-thou elitism that it threatens to open the door to the right. Some of us have been warning of this danger for a number of years.

The loss of Labour’s heartland working-class support in the recent general election and the even bigger disaster that Jo Swinson brought on herself should have made it clear that dismissing working-class Leave voters as idiots, gammon and racists and dismissing working-class women concerned about the rights of their sex as idiots and transphobes is not a winning electoral strategy.

The left can only defeat the right with the working class at its heart, with a sober grip on material reality and a unity built on solidarity in action, on a principled fight against all oppression (including trans oppression and women’s oppression) and on patient engagement and respectful treatment of fellow working people with whom we often have big, even painful disagreements.

Before we can defeat Johnson and his bigoted government, we must turn away from middle-class cancel culture to a collectivist model of patient, respectful agitation and to a frank debating of differences — above all to action in defence of our services, communities and workplaces against the government. 

The Labour Party should be turning towards the working class, not turning its back on the working class after looking down its nose at us or after treating working-class women as objects to be redefined by others, not subjects in their own story.

If we want to cancel Johnson’s government it’s time to cancel “cancel culture” itself. We need an engagement culture, a collectivist culture, a working-class culture. Oppose all bigotry but choose socialism not wokeism to do it.

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