Monthly Archives: November 2019

You can’t dodge the culture wars

This article neatly sums up why most of the Left has got it so wrong on Brexit.

Andrew Murray expresses the opinion that Brexit is part of a ‘culture war’. You are given to understand that this means something essentially unimportant, non-political. Culture wars, we are led to believe, are a distraction – an irrelevance, something that can be easily left aside. It is as if the whole of society were being riven by a giant split over who should have won the Bake Off – this is an argument that we don’t want to get dragged into, that has essentially no political meaning or implications and that therefore we can safely dodge.

This is of course entirely wrong about Brexit. The livelihoods of millions of working class people, their immigration status, their family life, their right to work, their right to live and move are all on the line. This is quite apart from the inevitable rise of nationalism, racism and racist attacks and the Thatcherite austerity-plus that will inevitably follow Brexit. It could not be more of a political issue.

But maybe he’s got a point in there somewhere. It does seem like we are increasingly finding ourselves immured in the ‘culture war’ politics of the United States, where cultural divides between liberal and conservatives which cut across class lines partially replace more traditional class divides. I can empathise to some extent with people in the Labour Party wanting to get back to talking about the many and the few. However, the answer to this shift to ‘culture war’ terrain is not to try and pretend it isn’t happening.

Although the term itself is a dismissive, trivialising term, we need to consider what are ‘culture wars’ about? In the United States what that means is – do the police have the right to kill black people with impunity? Do you have the ability to have an abortion if needed? Is there access to contraception? Are the lives of gay or trans people going to be valued as having any worth? Are refugee children going to be imprisoned in camps in the desert? These are literal matters of life and death. The culture wars couldn’t be more serious.

Ultimately, why is this ‘culture wars’ thing happening? It’s happening because of the rise of the far-right and a return to nationalism, nativism, racism, xenophobia. That is the big picture of what is going on in the world and if you cant see that then there really is no hope.

Andrew Murray apparently can see this. He acknowledges that Brexit has become about many other things apart from just the EU – essentially about nationalism, nativism and xenophobia. Remarkably, he concludes that it would be very bad to take a position on this. His argument is based on electoral calculation – that the Labour Party can’t take a position against “xenophobic nationalists and Thatcherite utopians” because it needs the votes. Really?

Brief thoughts on yesterday’s antifascist demo in London

Respect to everyone who organised the antifascist demo in London last night and to everyone who turned out.

It was really good and necessary that it happened. There had been quite a lot of hype about the violence the far-right were going to dish out. So extra kudos to the people that turned out anyway.

As it turned out, the riots and violence the far-right were promising turned out to be a damp squib. All we saw we were gaggles of far right goons in the pubs down Whitehall.

We got about 200 antifascists at the International Brigades memorial on the South Bank had some speeches on the theme of anti-fascist internationalism and a little march about.

In the current context this was a good morale boosting thing. In the spectrum of things that could have happened this was up the top end of possible outcomes. I was imagining potentially being faced with large numbers of angry violent DFLA thugs in the dark.

As it turned out there was a non-embarrasing number of us, basically no fascist presence and we got to have a march and a shout. About 25 fash in little groups tried to have a go at the demo – pulling sieg heil salutes and yelling. It was nice to have them there as if to confirm our raison d’etre.

Some brief constructive criticism:

Once we realised there was minimal organised far-right on the streets it might have been good if we had tried to march over the bridge to Westminster rather than just around Waterloo.

All the sticks along the sides stuff that seems to now be compulsory at antifascist demos was a little pointless. It’s funny when innovation gets turned into a mindless repetition so quickly. The sticks thing is useful to defend against cops or fash getting into the crowd and to demarcate our space, but it has disadvantages too. It’s slow, it traps us in a block where we can’t move quickly or fluidly. Tactics need to be considered case by case – was it useful in this situation?

It would have been good to have more visible banners to explain what we were. The combination of being dressed all in black masked up in the dark with black flags shouting in foreign languages confused a lot of passers-by who had no idea whether we were racists or anti-racists. It was only the RCG people with a big Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! banner that made it clear.

We also could also have had leaflets to give to passers by to explain what we’re doing. There’s a lot of goodwill we are missing out on by people not knowing who the fuck we are. Everyone I talked to was on-side once it was explained who the weirdos in black were and what they were shouting about.

Finally, it was all a bit black bloc-ish. We desperately need to expand antifascism beyond the sub-cultural black bloc crowd. It happened a bit last year with the Feminist Antifascist mobilisation and since then we seem to have gone back into a small scene.

Yesterday was fine but we’ll be trying to reinvent the wheel all over again the next time Tommy Robinson calls a big demo and we panic that we can only get out 200 people. We need to work to mobilise larger numbers of people which doesn’t mean going all liberal, abandoning militancy or diluting our politics. If we follow the example of the Feminist Antifascists and the excellent Pop Mob in Portland we can expand antifascism beyond this black bloc masked up militant thing, get larger numbers on the streets, and be more effective as a social force and as a militant force.