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STEPHEN YAXLEY-LENNON has been freed on bail. Describing his terrifying eight weeks in prison as “mental torture,” he has immediately exploited his own children’s grief in a highly effective propaganda video showing his return from jail. We can now expect the British far right to take a stab at serious rejuvenation.
For the last few years British fascism has been exhausted. Dogged by its own internal divisions, lack of direction and policies, and repeatedly humiliated in the streets by anti-fascists.
The most successful right-wing street organisation, the Football Lads Alliance, was relatively diluted in its politics, despite being led and influenced by the far right.
Significant numbers showing up to their demos were ordinary people motivated by opposition to jihadist terrorism and Islamist extremism. Many had no intent to vilify the Muslim community as a whole.
That period is now over. A series of set-piece rallies, generously funded by the international far right, followed by the Free Tommy movement, have made the politics unambiguous once again.
Now the old chants are back: “Shut the fucking mosques down,” “Allah is a paedo,” “I’d rather be a nazi than a Muslim.”
At a demonstration over the summer, a group of around 40 FLA supporters attacked and glassed Steve Hedley, assistant general secretary of the RMT, along with other RMT officials and anti-fascists (including the author of this piece) outside a pub.
Given the element of surprise and greater numbers, the attack achieved very little — but this is the classic sign of a fascist movement, which attempts to normalise violence against both minorities and the organised working class.
In the face of this and other attacks, I am for absolute unity in the struggle against this movement. I will see you all in the street, standing shoulder to shoulder.
However, I also believe the left is making unnecessary errors that have allowed the far right a hearing among ordinary people they should never have been gifted.
These include a liberal style and substance on anti-fascist demonstrations and a failure to tackle the issue of paedophile gangs.
I can already hear the allegations of Strasserism, of trolling, of “letting the right set the terms of the debate.” I am not a Strasserite. I am not joking. The anti-fascist movement should seek to seize the narrative away from the right, in areas it should never have controlled.
The majority of working-class people oppose the EU, almost all dislike fundamentalist religion and almost all hate paedophiles. They are correct on all three counts. In each case, the left (with honourable exceptions) has failed to indicate its agreement clearly, because it is panicked that these issues are the stamping ground of the right, and that saying what we actually think would give inadvertent support to racists.
In each case, the majority of the left has put its tail between its legs, and ruined golden opportunities to advance our own politics, abandoning issues of major concern to the working class out of nothing more than fear.
The reputation of the left among ordinary people, ridiculously, is that we are soft on Isis and Islamist extremism. When faced with this allegation, many anti-fascists will say something like “But that’s only a tiny proportion of Muslims, you racist.” That is not an answer.
Over 100 British volunteers, the majority of them left-wing, went to fight with the YPG against Isis in Syria. They won. Eight of them died.
Those fighters have repeatedly stated their politics – they have flown anti-fascist flags, declared their support for Jeremy Corbyn, and described themselves as socialists, anarchists and communists.
Not one YPG volunteer has promoted the far right, not even Ukip.
This issue belongs to the left, by rights.
How many EDL or similar were there for the victory over Isis in Raqqa? There shouldn’t be one iota of doubt in anyone’s mind about where the left stands on this: over the corpse of Isis.
As YPG volunteer Alexander Norton summarised in an interview with the BBC: “They say the left is soft on Islamic extremism, but when extremist, fanatical, Salafi jihadists are clearly all in one place and we can address them, we will come down on them like a ton of bricks.”
The only reason this stance is not widely known, and the only reason the YPG are not hailed as working-class heroes where Tommy Robinson has a mass following is the sheer timidity of the left in facing the issue squarely.
The fact that everyone knows Tommy Robinson’s name, but only a few know Anna Campbell’s, is both criminal and avoidable. We’ve got the mother of all open goals on this issue — help us seize the chance.
Likewise, the left must tackle the issue of paedophilia head on. This is an issue practically the entire working class cares about passionately.
The left was happy to talk about it when it was Jimmy Savile in the news. It has now gone mute on the issue of paedophile gangs, for fear of giving ground to the far right’s racist myths around grooming. But the left has its own analyses of paedophilia.
It links closely to class and power — you only have to look as far as Savile’s protection despite wide knowledge of his behaviour in the media Establishment, or the mass cover-up of paedophilic rape in the Catholic Church.
The one authentic statistical story about perpetrators is that they are overwhelmingly men.
The left has ideas here about power, misogyny and the fetishisation of vulnerability that can contribute to wiping the problem out in the long run.
We might as well have not bothered developing these ideas though — outside the subculture, nobody has a clue what they are.
Instead, the left is derided as the “politically correct brigade” and called “soft on paedos.” How can that do anything but damage our credibility with the ordinary person and provide the right with an opportunity to pose as the only people taking paedophilia seriously?
It really isn’t complicated — debunk the racist ideas in circulation around paedophilia, and at the same time make it clear beyond all possible doubt that the left is militantly and aggressively opposed to all forms of it.
These two issues are the most important for anti-fascism in the future — but the wider strategic problem, of cutting and running when you think the right control an issue, is one that plagues the modern left generally.
From Brexit, at the most important level, to backing England in the World Cup, at the most trivial, large sections of the left are abandoning their posts at the first sign of trouble, on subjects and areas of culture that the right have no natural claim to.
There is no need to feel trapped between helping bigots or helping liberals if you have the confidence to assert independent class politics, devoid of qualification and hedging.
Let’s stop running scared. Seize these issues back for the left.
Alex Birch is an NEU rep and executive member of his Labour CLP.
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